Social identity, belongingness, and mental health of Chinese international students in Greater Boston
Hsi, Jenny Huai Chen
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CitationHsi, Jenny Huai Chen. 2020. Social identity, belongingness, and mental health of Chinese international students in Greater Boston. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
AbstractInternational students in US higher education often experience high levels of mental health concerns, but have low rates of seeking formal help. As well, they often report lower sense of belonging to the university community. Chinese international students (CNIS), which comprises one-third of international students in the US today, face a particular socio-political climate that may paradoxically both encourage their cross-cultural engagement with Americans but also threaten them with marginalization and low belongingness.
Hence, this qualitative research project examines the experiences of CNIS in the Greater Boston area regarding belongingness, mental health, and identity-salient values and beliefs. I used the social identity model for identity change (SMIC), a subset of social identity theory, to interpret belongingness among CNIS as a state of positive integration of their dual identities as “Chinese persons” and “’American’ students”. When their identity transitions (which include themes of impermanence, cultural minority status, and greater independence from social embeddedness) are positively integrated, CNIS experience higher belongingness and mental health. Strong social scaffolding, such as participation in CNIS communities and supportive university programs and structures, facilitated positive identity integration. Thus, the SIMIC helped identify areas of potential programmatic improvement for university services in mental health and diversity, equity, and inclusion, to better complement CNIS’ existing bottom-up organizing.
Lastly, I developed a strategic plan based on the collective impact framework, for the Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness (CCCSEW) at Massachusetts General Hospital to disseminate this project’s findings and to build a coalition of local university and student community stakeholders for change action and advocacy. This project’s findings have broader implications towards the application of social identity theory in health and education research and practice, in support of a more holistic view of development and flourishing among CNIS, international students, or indeed students of all minority cultural identities.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42676017