Date of Award

9-1-2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Danaher, William

Abstract

In this dissertation, I explore the experiences of immigrant (i.e. foreign-born) faculty in the U.S. academy, especially during a trying period of time—Donald Trump’s presidency—when anti-immigrant sentiments and rhetoric have heightened in America. Specifically, I explore how in the Trump era, gender, race, ethnic (national) origin, cultural background, and foreign-born status intersect to shape immigrant faculty’s experiences at the individual, interpersonal, and organizational level, including the privileges they enjoy and/or the penalties they pay based on their multiple social locations and ethnic culture—a group occasionally studied. Finally, I explore how the organizational and departmental culture of diversity enables the faculty to make sense of their overall satisfaction and/or stress at work—rarely considered. Overall, the goal of this study is to understand how different social identities, cultural background, and immigrant status intersect to shape the professional and social standing of a highly skilled group of immigrant professionals in a foreign country and especially in a high-status occupation, such as professorship. Most importantly, this study attempts to understand how structural inequalities are produced and reinforced in the academy that is supposedly a haven for social consciousness and ethical conduct. For the purpose of my study, I conducted 66 in-depth interviews with immigrant faculty, search committee members, administrators (department chairs, interim directors of programs, college deans, and chancellors), and administrative personnel (staff members of Affirmative Action, Equity and Compliance, and Human Resources) at a large public university in the rural Midwest. I also conducted approximately 42 hours of observations in the faculty meetings and class lectures that my immigrant participants attended and delivered respectively. I noted faculty-faculty and faculty-student interactions, including their verbal and non-verbal exchanges. I used an intersectional lens grounded in the theories on tokenism to analyze my findings.Two overarching themes emerged in the data. The first one reveals the stereotypes (negative as well as positive), performance pressures, and professional marginalization my immigrant participants encounter at work. The second one shows that cultural contrasts result in my immigrant participants’ ethnic othering or exoticization at work, as well as heighten boundaries between them and their U.S.-born colleagues and students. These, in turn, affect my participants’ legitimacy, interpersonal communications, productivity, and career growth in the academy. Overall, I conclude that immigrant faculty are cultural tokens—held up against local hegemonic gendered and ethnic norms and racial stereotypes—in the U.S. academy, whose tokenization—scrutiny, performance pressures, and isolation—is shaped by their multiple social locations, cultural background, and the organizational and departmental culture of diversity. Lastly, keeping my study findings in mind, I make recommendations for diversity and inclusion in higher education in order to prevent women and racial and ethnic minorities from becoming tokens at work.

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