Hidden in Plain Sight: Situating the Identities and Experiences of Asian American Pacific Islander Students at an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution



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Background: Asians and Asian Americans neither look alike nor speak the same language. Despite many differences in the Asian diaspora, the people who define it are often viewed as a homogenous entity or population. This homogenization is also evident in educational contexts (B., Chang, 2017). The inclination to acknowledge Asians and Asian communities through imprecise linguistic, social, and academic generalities can negate their heterogeneity, distinct characteristics, and unique experiences, leading to inaccurate, misinformed, apathetic, and exclusionary institutional and educational policies and practices (Museus & Kiang, 2009; S. J., Lee, 1996; S. J., Lee, 2005; Teranishi, 2007). Purpose: This qualitative study aimed to raise awareness of the complexity of AAPI student identities and experiences by examining the experiences and conceptualizations of identity among a purposive sample of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) students attending an Asian American Native American Pacific Island Serving Institution (AANAPISI). The study also explored how university-based resources support these students’ conceptualizations of identity. Two broad research questions guided this study: (1) How do the personal experiences of AANAPISI-attending AAPI students inform their conceptualization of identity? (2) What university-based resources support these students’ conceptualizations of identity? Methods: This qualitative case study used multiple data sources, including semi-structured interviews, focus group interviews, and reflexive journaling to examine the conceptualizations of identity 15 AAPI-identifying students and their identity-based experiences. Recruitment for the study included purposeful sampling and snowballing. Data were coded and categorized using the constant comparison method (Gonzalez y Gonzalez, 2005). Themes were interpreted and identified using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Clarke, 2012). Results: Using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Clarke, 2012) of 95 interviews and one focus group, four major constellations of meaning were identified: Identity, Anti-Asian Sentiments and Experiences, Belonging and Searching, and The Need for Support. Within these constellations, 11 significant themes were identified: (1) Hidden and hiding in plain sight from self and others, (2) Making sense of one’s minoritized status, (3) Mutable constructions of identity, (4) Affirmation, aspiration, and resistance: Parental and family influences, (5) “Asians do have it pretty bad.”: Racialized experiences and Asian othering, (6) “What if someone does something to me?”: Anti-Asian sentiments, (7) Insider looking out and an outsider looking in: In search of belonging, (8) Everywhere and nowhere: Asian [Re]presentation, presence, and absence, (9) The role of same race institutional agents in facilitating agency for Asian students, (10) Solidarity, safe spaces, and support for Asian students, and (11) Transformative awakenings. Conclusion: This study revealed that AAPI students are richly multifaceted and far from monolithic in their perspectives and experiences. Moreover, they struggle with vulnerability, frustration, and alienation, underscoring their need for support and resources to contextualize their Asian identity. These struggles are indiscernible from aggregated data. Therefore, disaggregated data must be more available and better utilized in needs assessments for racially minoritized student populations, including AAPI students. Furthermore, this study emphasizes higher education’s role and responsibility in providing support to AAPI students and facilitating their psychosocial development. This mandate is especially critical for AANAPISI-designated institutions.



AAPI students, Identity, Racialized experiences, AANAPISI