Being “down with the brown” and other enactments of hybridity: Indian American college students come of age

Hilal Nakiboglu, University of Pennsylvania


The purpose of this work is to examine the undergraduate experiences of Indian American students currently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. All students are second generation American citizens between the ages of 17 and 22. The primary research question is one that attempts to understand in what ways second generation Indian Americans ethnic identities take shape through their experiences at this institution. The study makes extensive use of open-ended, individual interviews with ten Indian American informants. In addition, focus groups have been conducted, and participant observation methods employed. All data collected has been coded and analyzed in line with Maxwell's standards and procedure for qualitative methodologies. Findings suggest that the informants are quite skillful at managing multiple “identities”—perhaps most notably of ethnicity—given shifting social contexts. College, though it might mark a new distancing, a new “freedom” from parental and ethnic-community-influence, actually seems to become a place where many students rediscover/reorient themselves as Indian Americans. Students included in this study were found to use Penn's cultural and academic spaces to craft, act out, and ultimately share parts of their ‘Indian American-ness’ with one another and the campus at large. Most of these youths seem exceptionally ambivalent about what the Model Minority Myth has meant for them. Some express frustration around feeling typecast and being seen as technically-able science/engineering majors and not much else. A majority of the informants remain unwilling to foray into fields outside of the academic boundaries pre-defined for them. As such, some risk being misjudged and feeling boxed-in. Findings also suggest the events of September 11—and their aftermath—have left many feeling conflicted and more marginalized from the mainstream of campus life than they did previously. Individual strategies for coping with such feelings vary but the Indian American student population, for the most part, seems reluctant to speak out against acts of racism and intolerance both on campus and off it. This dissertation aims to add to the current discourse/research on ethnic identification and the formation of American collegiate youth cultures.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Nakiboglu, Hilal, "Being “down with the brown” and other enactments of hybridity: Indian American college students come of age" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168037.