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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Smart vs. The Hardworking: The Academic Self-Concepts of Mexican Descent GATE students

  • Author(s): Medrano, Catherine R
  • et al.

For students of color in college preparation educational programs, messages of exceptional ability have significant and unique effects. Being a student of color in a society that privileges whiteness, the few students of color who are actually in these programs face difficulties that white students do not. While high-achieving white students face the possibility of being called “nerds” or “dorks,” high-achieving students of color face the possibility of being accused of “acting white” and therefore being ostracized by their friends of color. Thus, what it means to have a high-achieving identity is qualitatively different for students of color than white students. In light of this, we are forced to ask: what do “high-achieving” identities look like for students of color? More specifically: what do high-achieving identities look like for students of Mexican-descent? In what ways do these students react to constant messages of superiority? How do their high-achieving identities affect their interaction with Mexican descent peers who are not in college preparation programs? The author challenges the notion that being perceived as “acting white” is inevitable for high-achieving students of color. The author argues that this approach fails to see the role that feelings of superiority play. Thus, high-achieving students do not only choose from internalizing a “smart” or “hardworking” identity; they also choose between being “a superior” or “an equal.”

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