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Vol. 7 No. 1 (2021): Journal for Leadership, Equity, and Research

Perceptions Of Inequality As Racial Projects: Uncovering Ethnoracial And Gendered Patterns Among First-generation College-going Asian American Students

February 9, 2021


Through a Racial Formation Framework, this article explores how Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese American first-generation college students at a large research university perceive inequality in the United States. Drawing on 129 interviews, our findings suggest that students operate under a Racial Formation Inequality Spectrum in which they conceptualize contemporary racial projects through distinct structural-to-cultural explanations. Korean American students in this sample deploy a cultural understanding of inequality embedded within structural frames, while Chinese and Vietnamese American students employ more structural perspectives integrating critiques of cultural explanations. We also find that gender shapes these factors, as most women respondents are more likely than men to view inequality from a structural lens and utilize more sophisticated conceptualizations where they critique purely cultural explanations. Ultimately, we argue that the discourse about perceptions of inequality can serve as a form of racial projects. The results of this research shed light on how social locations such as ethnorace and gender contribute to divergent understandings of inequality in the United States as described by Asian American college students. The findings have direct implications for student sense of belonging and success in higher education contexts.