Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Chwalisz-Rigney, Kathleen


This study was designed to explore how Black African international students develop an understanding of their racial identity within the U.S. context. Although there has been considerable previous theoretical and empirical work examining the process of racial identity development (e.g. Cross, 1971; Sellers et al.1998), which has provided foundation for how we continue to understand how U.S. racial minorities develop their racial identities. However, there is a paucity of research on the racial identity development process of non-U.S. born Black people (Hocoy, 1999; Asante, 2012). Even less is known about the role that intersectionality of other identities plays in the racial identity development of non-U.S. Black groups. Thus, this study was intended to provide information about the racial identity development process within the U.S. context of Black African international students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Grounded Theory method was implemented in this study to analyze qualitative data from nine individual interviews. Findings highlight the complexity of navigating racial identity in a different cultural context. The final analysis revealed seven axial coding categories that comprised of 22 open-coding categories and subcategories. A Grounded Theory model emerged from the analysis, racial identity development as a flowing river, which depicts how participants developed their racial identity within the U.S. cultural context. These Black African international students’ racial identity development process was characterized by individual understanding of race, race-related incidents and events, constructivist nature of race, and impact of other group identities. At the center of the theoretical structure was the understanding of racial identity development as a journey, rather than a step-by-step process. Participants typically begun the process with the understanding of race within their home country context, and then gradually navigated how to adjust to the U.S. context of what it means to be Black. The process was like traveling down a flowing river, littered with rocks and ripples, and African identity served as a safe vessel in which to navigate the river’s flow. The study’s conclusions have implications for mental health providers in college counseling centers, international student office personnel, and researchers. Prior to providing services to Black African international students, stakeholders are encouraged to be mindful of the personal and cultural needs of individual students, as well as where they might be in their racial identity development journey.




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