Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Education for Social Justice

Dissertation Committee

Reyes L. Quezada, Ed.D., Chairperson Maya Kalyanpur, Ph.D.


MENACrit, MENA, North African, Middle Eastern, international students, racial identity, social justice, whiteness


Although a growing body of literature covers the experiences of international students at U.S. colleges, the stories of those who do not fit into the U.S. racial schema remain untold. This study examined how Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) students understood their racial identities given the United States’ tense history with Islam and the MENA world. Using foundational texts on critical race theory, current scholarship on Arab Americans and foreign-born students, and facets of the Ethnic Identity Scale (EIS), this study examined the experiences of MENA students who study amid a national backdrop of xenophobia and racialized Islamophobia. This study included 58 survey respondents and 10 interview participants. Findings suggested participants were 53% more likely to identify as Black within the U.S. Census schema. When self-identifying, 42% of participants chose new terminology such as Arab, North African, and Middle Eastern. Interview participants felt most comfortable with other MENA international students and Black and Muslim peers, and reported often self-isolating from white spaces due to fear of tokenization and prejudice. Participants who identified as MENA experienced more pride in their heritage and a deeper understanding of the role of race in their lives than participants who identified as white. These findings illuminated the need for increased representation of MENAs' racial and sociocultural lived experiences, which are currently not reflected in the U.S. protocol of labeling MENA peoples as white.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Learning and Teaching

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a CC BY License.