Ethnic Identity Interviews

  • 12 Pages
  • Published On: 31-05-2024


In order to address the research questions formulated at the start of the study, interviews, as data collection mechanism was perceived the most appropriate approach. As such, a semi-structured interview was conducted involving three students undertaking BA Education Studies at the University of Roehampton. Essentially, the approach aimed to venture deep into respondents understanding and take on the ethnic identity and important, from their respective point of view, influence it has on the academic performance of the university students. The participant selection process was not randomised but rather identified and selected a White-British male, a female British-Somali, and a female of British-Caribbean. In doing so, the study captured students from three different ethnic identity namely White, Somali, and Caribbean. During interview process, the interview was recorded then transcribed before checking for relevance and validity to the research topic and subsequent questions and objectives.


4.3: Reasons for choosing BA Education Studies course

Similar to choosing the university, the respondents had varying reasons for undertaking the BA Education Studies. Nevertheless, the responses aligned to being passionate about children with focusing of working in learning environment. Participant 1 held “…because I am passionate about children and want to become a primary teacher.” While respondent 2 stated taking the course because of the passion with children not just in education system but also to extension museum or as an Ofsted officer, stating, “…I have a passion for working with children. But because education is broad, I know that I can also work in a museum or as an Ofsted officer.” Contrarily, the participant 3 decided to undertake the course after suggestion from the parents and subsequent independent research about the course, stating, “…my parents suggested the course. Also, I did my own research about the course and I was interested to find out more.”

4.4: Reasons for attending higher education

The responses to whether the participants always wanted to study attend and study at a higher education levels ranged from parents expectation, social influence, friends, and pay. In essence, these factors can be categorised into socio-economic elements, which are largely rooted on individuals living environment and perspectives. Participant 1 indicated parents’ expectation with emphasis of aiming for a higher education stating, “…my parents always expected from me to study at a higher education and they have always installed in me to aim for a higher education.” Whereas, Harry had different conviction on the wanting to study at higher education indicating that it was the easier option saying, “…I did not have any other plans other than study at a higher education. So, I just chose the easier option.” However, the decision of the friends to join and study to attain higher education was a factor in participants’ decision to join the learning institution, pointing out, “…my friend chose to study at a higher education and convinced me to join him to go to the same university.”

4.5: Relationship between students’ experiences and their ethnicity

The interview sought the capture the participant perspectives on the whether the experiences gained at the learning institutions are influenced by one ethnic identity or not. Two the participants identifying as Somali and African responded by agreeing to the assertion that ethnicity directly affects one experiences with participant 3 holding, “…yes definitely”. The reasoning behind the agreement was rooted on stereotyping individuals because of their looks, beliefs, and behaviours. According to participant 3, fear of being judged and subjected to prejudice by fellow students and teachers makes them feel out of place, saying, “…I feel like from the get go as a black woman I am stereotyped because of the way I look, talk, and act. I never felt comfortable enough to express myself or be who I am because I was scared students and lecturers would judge me.” Participant 1 indicated, “…lead to the teacher having lower expectations of the student or maybe even higher expectation depending on the ethnicity of the student…lead to the teacher giving the student a grade they might not deserve …”. On the other hand, Participant 2, identifying as White-British, indicate ethnicity background had nothing to do with his experiences at the university stating, “No, I do not think my ethnicity played a role in my experience…”

4.6: Ethnicity-oriented challenges

In order to capture the challenges and problems faced in a society but linked to the ethnic identify, the interview inquired about participants’ background before joining the university outlining the ways in which society perceived respective ethnic identity. The responses indicate stereotyping by society based one ethnic group although the degree the challenges varied with participant 2 struggling to remember ethnic related challenge encountered while growing up stating, “…the only challenge I remember facing in secondary school, was being labelled by the teachers as a laddish because I am a white working-class male”. Contrarily, participant 1 held believe that her ethnicity caused her being judged, discriminated, and bullied by schoolmates and society, holding, “…was judged based on my ethnicity and labelled because of the stereotypes of my ethnicity…made fun of me...”

The interview proceeded to ask participants’ ethnic-related challenges faced by the students at the university aimed to establish extended in which ethnicity plays on the individuals experiences and general views of ethnic identity. Participants 1 believed because of her ethnic identity, she could not reach her potential because she lacked support and being perceived lazy. She stated, “…I felt like I could not get the assignments done to the best standards of my ability…. The teacher was not supportive because they just assumed I was not hard working and I was lazy...” Similarly, participant 3 stereotyping experienced in the university where lecture easy dismissed her because of her looks and behaviour. Participant 3 argued, “In the university, I faced challenges such as being stereotyped, lecturers usually like dismiss what I have to say and I feel like it's because they think I'm the loud like ratchet black girl.” Only participant 2 held contrary views indicating that university experiences was quite different stating, “…it was quite different from secondary school, I was not labelled…”

4.7: Ethnicity and academic attainment

4.7.1: pre-university education

It was important for the study to establish the influence of ethnicity in education system as experienced by the participants. As such, it asked individuals’ experiences before joining the university on ways their respective academic attainment of affected by their ethnic identity. The responses indicated great influence as all the participants stating their respective performance being hampered by their ethnic identity. According to participant 1, teachers and other students labelled her as class clown in addition to being stereotyped as disruptive and non-hard working individuals perception associated with Somalis, her ethnic group. She stated, “…in secondary school, I felt like I was labelled by teachers and other students as the class clown and I did not take school serious…Somalis are known for having disruptive behaviour and they do not care about their school work serious and I felt like I was put in that category”. Participant 2 held that due to his laddish behaviour, he was seen as a disruptive student ultimately affecting his academic performance, stating, “…in secondary school, I felt like I was labelled by teachers and other students as disruptive and I did not take school serious. Due to my laddish behaviour, my attainment in secondary school was low…” On her view point, participants 3 held that living and attending majority White populated society and schools, she was most discriminated being dismissed occasionally and offered little help with class work.

“…I live in a majority white area and so I went to a majority white populated school, because I was one of the few black students my teachers never helped me with my classroom work or homework. They used to dismiss me a lot”.

4.7.2: Influence Ethnicity on university education

In investigating the influence ethnicity has had on the participants’ university learning performance, the interviewer asked for the participant belief on the implication respective ethnic identity has had on their academic performance. The responses indicated that those perceived minority in a social group or society such as Somalis and Africans (Blacks) ethnic groups in White-populated setting feel marginalised, deprived of opportunities, discriminated, and offered less supported compared to others. According to participant 1, her ethnic identity caused the teaching staff provide less support and opportunities stating, “…Yes, because I felt like I did not get the support I needed from teachers based on my ethnicity and they could have put in the effort to support me more…” She proceeded suggesting background and ethnicity should not be used to deprive one opportunities and support saying, “… regardless of ethnicity everyone deserves to have equal opportunity and I did not get equal opportunity.” Whereas participant 3 held that after putting more effort than her White classmates put she always performed less than them stating, “…I really do, I honestly try so hard, I read all of the articles that the lecturers ask me to read, I go to tutorials and I rarely miss lectures but I don’t achieve what the white students achieve.”

Opposing responses to what participant 1 and 3 believed were given by participant 2 believing that his ethnic identify had any influence on his academic performance. He stated, “…I do not think my ethnicity has impacted my attainment whist in university. I feel like I was no longer labelled as laddish…” He believed to have received enough support from both the teaching staff and peers with no discrimination of stereotyping stating, “…I had the support of my teachers and peer whilst in university, which helped to raise my attainment.”

Providing support to close attainment gap

On issues of providing support by the university to minority students or rather those feeling discriminate or stereotyped due to their ethnic attributes such as physical features like colour and ideological views such beliefs and norms, the respondents were divided based on their views of discrimination, stereotyping, and lack of support. Participant 1, a White participants, viewed the university provide support to students though this should be extended to other students irrespective of the ethnic identity. He stated, “…I feel like the university does provide support, because I have had support throughout my university experience...But the university can also, provide more support to ethnic minority students who tend to not ask for help or are over looked, in order to create an equal opportunity environment.” On the other hand, the participants who can be classified as minority, Somalis and Blacks, believed university need to do more by proving support bridging the attainment gap between majority and minority students. Participant 1 argued the university need to ensure students have equal opportunities and platforms irrespective of their ethnic identity in addition to not stereotyping and judging students based on their backgrounds. She stated, "…teacher should avoid stereotyping, labelling and judging students based on their ethnicity. Also, teachers should have the same standard for all students, regardless of the students’ ethnicity.” On her part, participant 3 recommended having extra classes to incorporate and engage more the students feeling marginalized and discriminated in attempt to bridge the attainment gap, stating, “…university provided more classes outside of the university timetable which caters to students who feel like they need the extra help then I am sure it would be a step towards closing the attainment gap…”


Literature has demonstrated significant relationship between ethnicity and human relations where individuals sharing beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and norms easy relate while those showing a contrary ideological or physical attributes are normally perceived outsiders (Desmet et al., 2017; Jenkins, 2008). However, in a given homogenous setting with more than one ethnic groups, complexity related to common in perspective or physical features existed. In this study, the focus was investigating influence ethnicity has on the students’ academic attainment. It sought to understand the concept of ethnicity in relation to attainment of students in learning institutions taking University as a case study.

From the literature, the concept of ethnicity taking the shape of ethnic identity and grouping individuals based on their physical appearances, cultural backgrounds, traditional beliefs, norms, and religious beliefs. Traditionally, individuals who shared such values, beliefs, and appearances lived in a given geographical region with little people holding different views and beliefs. According to Schaefer (2008) and Mickelson (2012), a society is describable as people living in a specific geographic areas interacting within social gathering and sharing core values and culture perceived to having commonness.

However, arguably as a product of the globalisation and advancement of technology, the idea of homogenous society composed of the individuals sharing core values and beliefs as well as physicality has seen drastic shift where most societies especially in urban areas comprising of individuals from different backgrounds. This ethnic diversity extends to the social engagement and education arenas where majority ethnic group might perceived the minority as a weak, outsiders, or inferior. According to Van der Meer and Tolsma (2014), most of the societies that have seen increased in individuals from different ethnic backgrounds experience a shift in both ideological that include beliefs, values, norms, and perspectives and physical appearances such as colours, clothing, and body build within its social gathering that include learning institution.

The findings of this study demonstrate beliefs held by both the majority and minority towards treatment received by the others. In British societies, the majority of the people have norms and values associable with traditional British (White) culture and beliefs while minority holding their respective cultures. The respondent to the study identifying as a White British (participant 2) pointing out that he never experiences any form of discrimination and judgement associable to his ethnic identity apart of being labelled laddish. On the hand, the participants 1 and 3 from Somali and Black African, who from perspective of British society are considered minority, held to have experienced discrimination before and while undertaking their university education. The participants from the minority ethnic groups believed being discriminated upon, labelled, and judged by the teaching staff and peers because of their ethnic identity, the treatment not received by their White counterparts. The findings is collaborated by the studies conducted on the discrimination in education system arguing that in most case, the minority students face discrimination, stereotyped, judged, and being associated with perceived misguided perception of the particular ethnic grouping.


In line to qualitative research approach building on exploring and digging deep into the perceptive, conceptions, and views of societies towards ethnicity as well as the influence of ethnic identity towards social association and interaction particularly on academic achievement, the study employed semi-structure interviews. The questions of the interview were framed in a manner that it allowed the researcher to delved deep into elements of the ethnicity focused on influence its holds around learning environment by asking the participants follow-up questions setting the explanation to the given responses to offer deeper view. Three individuals were interviewed as participants to the study all being in their third year undertaking BA Education Studies.

The findings indicate the discrimination and stereotyping is not limited to teaching fraternity but also the others students and education system. Despite formulation and implementation of the policies and frameworks aimed at restructure education system shifting it to accommodate the minority students through promoting equal opportunities and support regardless of ethnic background, this study demonstrate students from minority ethnic groups such as Somalis and Blacks feel marginalised and discriminated in offering support on coursework and other academic related work. Although this study was adversely limited by the number of individuals interviewed to provide insight of the research, the findings indicate a significant influence of one ethnic background on the academic performance.

The White students perceive the support offered to them by teachers and lecturer being adequate while the others, minority, holding contrary views with all the respondents pointing to have experienced discrimination due to their respective ethnic identity. Supported by previous studies, academic performance of a student is grounded on various elements but largely depended on the social factors such as acceptances, engagement, and support from both the teaching staff, peers (classmates and schoolmates), and social members. As argued by the participants, deprivation of support from social agents (learning institutions members whether teachers or peers) significantly affect the academic performance of the students. Ethnic diversity in education has increasingly become prevalent recently with demographic change of the students and teachers, each holding different beliefs, cultural values and norms, and coming from different backgrounds characterised by different religious beliefs and physical appearances. Fundamentally, it is important for teaching members (teachers and lecturers) as well as education system to integrate a framework providing equal opportunity to all students irrespective of the ethnic identity. One approach is acknowledging ethnic diversity within not only the society but also learning environment and understanding different perception, beliefs, and norms held by various ethnic groups. Ideally, these will aid in formulating strategies and approaches that accommodate and incorporate individuals with different cultural values, beliefs, and appearances in learning environment.

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As recommendation for future studies, the concept of ethnicity is a complex element demanding taking different perspective to understand influence on individual living and perspective. Therefore, there is need to undertake an in depth study in the questions raised on the link between one ethnic identity and academic performance. As such, the number of participants (interviewed individuals) should be increased for better view and understanding of ethnicity and academic attainment.

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  • Desmet, K., Ortuño-Ortín, I. and Wacziarg, R., 2017. Culture, ethnicity, and diversity. American Economic Review, 107(9), pp.2479-2513.
  • Farkas, G., 2003. Racial disparities and discrimination in education: What do we know, how do we know it, and what do we need to know?. Teachers College Record, 105(6), pp.1119-1146.
  • Jenkins, R., 2008. Rethinking ethnicity. Sage.
  • Mickelson, R.A., 2012. Race, ethnicity, and education. In Handbook of education policy research (pp. 256-273). Routledge.
  • Schaefer, R.T., 2008. Encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and society (Vol. 1). Sage.
  • Van der Meer, T. and Tolsma, J., 2014. Ethnic diversity and its effects on social cohesion. Annual Review of Sociology.

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