Saturday, November 20, 2010

Phinney’s Model of Ethnic Identity Development Summarized by Erika Johnson

Theory Overview
Jean S. Phinney developed a three stage model of ethnic identity development (1992) based on research with minority adolescents combined with other ego identity and ethnic identity models, especially the works of Marcia and Erickson.    Her research involved both junior and high school adolescents who were found to be at one of three levels of ethnic identity development (Phinney, 1992).  The first stage, Unexamined Ethnic Identity, is characterized by a lack of exploration. In this stage, individuals may experience diffusion or foreclosure, a lack of interest in ethnicity or a general acceptance of others opinions.  The second stage of the model, Ethnic Identity Search/ Moratorium, combines the notions of encounter and exploration.  The individual starts to develop their ethnic identity during this stage which is often initiated by a harsh or indirect event. The final stage of the model is Ethnic Identity Achievement.  Individuals at this stage have a clear sense of their ethnic identity and are able to successfully navigate their bicultural identity.  It is important to note that Phinney developed the three stage model based on her research with adolescents and that college students have a different set of challenges and support that may affect the theory’s applicability. 
Use in Higher Education
Higher education can find value in Phinney’s three stage model as it can be used when working with students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.  Higher education can use the model to create an environment that encourages exploration of and commitment to one’s own ethnic identity. Campuses can sponsor activities that support the ethnic identity search stage by providing cultural opportunities, ethnic studies courses, and open dialogues that lend to a supportive environment.   Since ethnic identity development is an individual process, student affairs professionals can add opportunities for self-reflection when working with students or planning activities.
Annotated Bibliography
Pizzolato, J.E., Chaudhari, P., Murrell, E.D., Podobnik, S., & Schaeffer, Z. (2008). Ethnic identity, epistemological development, and academic achievement in underrepresented students. Journal of College Student Development, 49, 301-318
The authors utilize both a qualitative and quantitative study to analyze the connection between epistemological development, ethnic identity and academic achievement for minority college students.  Utilizing Phinney’s definition of ethnic identity and Baxter-Magolda’s theory of self authorship, the authors interviewed high achieving students from various ethnic backgrounds for the first study.  For the quantitative study, the students completed three surveys including the Self Authorship survey, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure, and a demographic survey.  The authors found a relationship between academic achievement, epistemological development, and ethnic identity with the combination of the latter two variables explaining college GPA variance almost as well as the combination of SAT scores and high school GPA.  The authors recognized the limitations of their study and made recommendations for further studies to include students from various institution types, academically struggling students and a larger sampling with greater ethnic diversity.
Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F., Patton, L.D., & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Phinney, J. S. (1993). A three-stage model of ethnic identity development in adolescence. In M. E. Bernal & G. P. Knight (Eds.), Ethnic identity: Formation and transmission among Hispanics and other minorities (pp. 61-79). New York: State University of New York Press.
Pizzolato, J.E., Chaudhari, P., Murrell, E.D., Podobnik, S., & Schaeffer, Z. (2008). Ethnic identity, epistemological development, and academic achievement in underrepresented students. Journal of College Student Development, 49, 301-318
Torres, V., Howard-Hamilton, M.F., Cooper, D.L. (2003). Identity development of diverse populations: Implications for teaching and administration in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report: Volume 29, Number 6.  San Francisco, CA:  Josey-Bass.


  1. Even though Phinney's model focuses on bi-racial ethnicities, some of the theory's components can be applied to single-race minorities. It can actually be applied to my own upbringing. As a chid, I never considered my own ethnic identity (diffusion-non issue), until one day my mom told me that I needed to work harder in school because "You are not an American. You are not like those other children. What employer would hire a minority over a white person with the same skills?" This statement always stood out in my memory, and according to Phinney, it pushed me into stage 2 (ethnic identity moratorium) where I began examining the significance of my background. I wouldn't necessarily consider my mom's statement to me as a "crisis", but it certainly opened my eyes and stirred doubt in my mind about how my ethnicity would affect my future. I may have mentioned this in class, but depending on the context I am viewed as either the minority or majority. In China, I am visually the majority, but everyone seems to know I'm "American". In Utah, I am the minority (eg. Asian American), unless I am with friends who are Asian or at a cultural event, then we "all look the same". In England, I was a semi-minority, because I was considered both "American" and "Chinese". Speaking of, it was fascinating to meet Asian folks in the UK who spoke with a British accent! It's very interesting to see the dynamic between my surroundings, others' perceptions, and myself.

  2. In response to Amy: I had almost the exact same thing said to me in my own upbringing as a child! Since then, I have always been aware that I am not American. It was difficult to explain to others what it meant to be Laotian and I definitely am the minority everywhere I am. It is almost more interesting to me to have others guess what ethnicity I am than for me to straightforwardly tell people what I am and have them be confused from the start. My parents definitely instilled the idea of not being an American early on, but it wasn't until there was an event such as "International Week" in junior high that I questioned whether or not I was eligible to be a part of events such as performing a cultural dance. I definitely think this falls in the first stage of Unexamined Ethnic Identity where there is a lack of exploration. I later question my parents about why they never took the time to teach me these cultural dances, only for them to reply to me with, "We never knew you were interested!".

  3. I thought this theory was not bi-racial, but instead focused on being applicable to all ethnicities instead of focusing on certain groups. We never did have someone to present theories on multi-racial development theories. If anyone is interested, here is an article I found by one of the authors of our textbook. It also covers a theory we did not have time to discuss - Bronfenbrenner's ecology model:

    Renn, K.A. (203). Understanding the identities of mixed-race college students through a developmental ecology lens. Journal of College Student Development, 44(3), 383-403. DOI: 10.1353/csd.2003.0032

  4. I thought of my cute nieces and nephews, who have a White mother and an Asian American father, during Erika's presentation. My sister-in-law was always disappointed to see children who did not look even remotely like her, and her family all felt as though these were more of the "other" side's family than their own.

    Aren't genes 50-50? Why is it that a child must grow up with others viewing one "side" over another? To me, I see these biracial children as the cutest combination ever. I hope that their development is not filled with too many crises, though at the same time, I would like them to find that balance--even if that requires moratorium.

  5. I had always thought that my undergrad had done a great job of addressing ethnicity exploration. As an RA I came to appreciate the programming expectations that were set for us as diversity programming played a crucial role. On the academic side we had cultural events requirements. With a multitude of opportunities to explore different cultures, I took this opportunity to expand my knowledge of my own bicultural identity. I think that these opportunities were very important to my ethnic identity development during college.

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