Peer Integration of High School Immigrant Students in Chile: Reproducing Social Hierarchies
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Peer Integration of High School Immigrant Students in Chile: Reproducing Social Hierarchies


Immigrants’ integration has increasingly become a salient issue and challenge in Chile, especially for immigrant students, who must navigate a rigid and highly segregated educational system. In this process, school peers play a crucial role in the social integration of immigrant students by building social capital, developing connections, and forming networks among students. However, little is known about immigrants’ peer integration at schools, and no research has linked the national-, school-, and classroom-level structural conditions that affect the experiences of immigrant peer integration at school in Chile. Using a multilevel analytical framework, this dissertation investigates to what extent high school immigrant students experience integration or exclusion by their Chilean peers, to what extent immigrant youth integrate with their school peers at the school and classroom level, and to what extent national-, school-, and classroom-level educational policies and practices foster, promote, or support their integration with peers. To this end, a mixed-method design was conducted. I relied on large national databases at the school and students’ levels and on in-depth analysis of seven high schools in the Metropolitan Region of Chile, obtaining data from policy documents, 75 in-depth interviews with students and school staff, and 46 classroom observations.Overall, results show that immigrant students experience high levels of peer segregation and exclusion at Chilean schools. National-, school-level and classroom-level policies and practices create structural barriers to the integration of immigrant students. At the national level, I found an increasing trend of school segregation among immigrant students in high school between 2015 and 2020 in all school types. The current national school enrollment policy for immigrant students appears as one important factor that reduces their social inclusion with their Chilean peers. At the school level, educators consistently construct national origin-based stereotypes of immigrant students that reinforce Chilean students’ prejudices toward their immigrant peers and affect immigrants’ self-identity, confidence, and well-being. In addition, classroom-level structures ensure the physical separation of immigrant students from Chilean students, which affects their peer social relationships. Consequently, immigrant students experience high levels of peer exclusion at school, encapsulation of friendships, and discrimination and racism. The social hierarchy of immigrant students at school is a reflection of societal divisions in Chile. This study contributes to the literature by investigating peer integration of immigrant students at multiple levels, linking national-, school- and classroom-level policies and structures to conditions that affect immigrant social relationships with their Chilean peers. Using a multilevel framework is valuable as it: (a) offers a more nuanced and in-depth conceptualization of immigrant students’ peer integration, (b) highlights how the educational system shapes peer interactions, and (c) expands the debate on immigrant students’ peer integration beyond students’ academic outcomes.

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