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Exploring the Middle Eastern American Students’ College Experience: Adjustment, Discrimination, and Coping


Experiences of perceived prejudice and discrimination are prevalent in the Middle Eastern American community (Arab American Institute, 2015), and these rates have only increased since September 11th, 2001 (Rousseau, Hassan, Moreau, & Thombs,

2011). However, little is known about how such experiences influence the Middle Eastern American emerging adulthood population, despite the importance of this critical developmental period (Arnett, 2000). Given past findings that discrimination can negatively impact ethnic minority college adjustment across social, academic, and emotional domains (Carter, Locks, & Winkle-Wagner, 2013), it is important to understand the interrelationships of discrimination experiences, coping, and college adjustment specifically for Middle Eastern Americans. The current study explored experiences of discrimination, microaggressions, coping, and college adjustment through in-depth interviews with 25 Middle Eastern American first- year and second-year undergraduate college students. Participants were recruited from a public university with a mean age of 18.72 and a sample of 7 men and 18 women of diverse Middle Eastern heritage. Of the 25 participants, 15 were first-year undergraduate students and 10 were second-year undergraduate students. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded using grounded theory. This process allowed for the in-depth exploration and theory generation that is particularly important when conducting research with a population underrepresented in the literature. Study findings resulted in a theoretical model of how discrimination influenced college adjustment across multiple socio-ecological levels: (a) societal: climate and context, (b) community: discrimination and sense of belonging, (c) relationships and self: family, peers, and coping, and (d) individual: college adjustment. Results suggested that discrimination experiences were critical components to consider in the matter of Middle Eastern American students’ college persistence, and the findings carried a number of clinical implications for working with these college students on an institutional, interpersonal, and individual level.

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