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Crandall, Jennifer (2016) THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED: SOUTHEAST ASIAN AMERICAN UNDERGRADUATES’ COLLEGE-GOING EXPERIENCES. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry uses a social, cultural, and aspirational capital framework to explore the college-going experience of Southeast Asian American undergraduates to account for divergent experiences that get lost in generalizations about Asian Americans. Drawing from the college-going experience of Vietnamese and Cambodian American undergraduates at a public research university, this study provides valuable insight into the complex set of social realities for immigrant and/or refugee students and families and strategies students use to navigate their multiple worlds in their quest for a higher education and thus informs education policy and practice. Drawing from Seidman’s (1991) phenomenological interview series, data collection entailed in-depth individual interviews of seven Southeast Asian American undergraduates and analysis of participant-selected artifacts.

The two primary findings—1) intimate familial relations are paramount to college-going and 2) bounded college-going habitus inhibits smooth path to university—signal variability across the three forms of capital due to tensions participants experienced when engaging with their respective environments. One form of capital could compensate for limitations in another, for example, the interplay of which changes over time in accordance with a student’s lived experience.

While schools facilitate and validate the notion of higher education as the pathway for success, it is imperative to consider family structure and influence in order to understand how multiple complex and at times competing influences interact to impact college-going for Southeast Asian American students. Tapping into the dynamic interplay of aspirational and cultural capital through intimate familial relations was one primary strategy participants utilized to facilitate their college-going. Participants possessed a college-going habitus developed in part by parents’ high educational values and college/career aspirations and expectations. Additionally, older siblings attending or as recent college graduates facilitated college-going for younger siblings thru the various roles they played such as advisor, tutor, role model, and surrogate parent. This research points to an interdependent approach to education that challenges previous literature. Participant experiences suggest that familial roles and responsibilities are blurred, thus creating the argument for an interdependent conceptualization of family as an institutional context that influences the educational experience and outcomes of Southeast Asian American students.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Crandall, Jenniferjrc62@pitt.eduJRC62
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWeidman, John Cweidman@pitt.eduWEIDMAN
Committee MemberGunzenhauser,
Committee MemberDeAngelo,
Committee MemberWong,
Date: 26 January 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 December 2015
Approval Date: 26 January 2016
Submission Date: 7 January 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 235
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: social capital, cultural capital, aspirational capital, higher education, Asian American, phenomenology,
Date Deposited: 26 Jan 2016 17:40
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:31


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