Language, identity, and citizenship in a U.S. University: immigrant English learners’ identity (re)positioning


In response to growing linguistic diversity, many U.S. universities have implemented language policies that include procedures for English learner (EL) identification. Institutional labels such as “English learner” and “limited English proficiency” are regularly used to identify students who may need English language support; these same identifiers often imply a deficit perspective of students. Employing a multiple-case study and ethnographic design, this study examines immigrant ELs’ experiences with institutional policies and practices that assign them labels based on their citizenship status and how those labels then affect their identities and sense of place within the university. In this study, immigrant ELs refer to students who have U.S. K-12 schooling, hold permanent residency, or U.S. citizenship, have a first language that is not English, and may have limited English proficiency. Immigrant ELs appropriated policy in order to negotiate institutional labels as manifested in university policies and practices. While immigrant EL policy appropriation allowed them to (re)position their identities, it furthered immigrant EL marginalization and alienation, reproduced ethnic and EL, and undergirded acculturation and assimilation. This study draws attention to the process and practice of identity and the role of language policy and agency in this process in higher education settings.

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Current Issues in Language Planning