Who knew there was a Racial Cultural Identity Development Model?

All stage of schooling can never properly prepare a student of color (SOC) to enter a predominantly white institution (PWI). There are no tricks or short cuts when it comes to adapting in a PWI as a SOC. However, through further research beyond what was taught during this course I have encountered a model known as Racial Cultural Identity Development model (RCID), that was proposed by Atkinson, Morten, and Sue (1979). A person’s cultural identity is a crucial aspect in their personality and personal development as a human. The ability to accept and take hold of who you are as an individual can open many doors of opportunities and help develop resilience, power, and confidence.

mixed race 11 month old baby turning pages in a book

Here is a semi-brief rundown of the five stages of the RCID. The first stage of this model for people of color (POC) is known as conformity. This is where one’s racial/cultural group is perceived negatively, and this individual holds the belief that white cultural standards are superior. Individuals stuck in the conformity stage are generally self-depreciating as they believe they are less superior. Dissonance is the next step of this model where individuals grow a greater sense of personal awareness that racism exists and that not all cultural values of a dominant group may be seen as beneficial. Individuals begin to gain a greater interest in their own racial or ethnic group. Then comes resistance and immersion, here individuals will tend to withdrawal from white cultural standards and dive deeper into their own racial identity in order to develop and take hold of their new identity. At this point in the model the individual becoming more self-appreciating and appreciative of their own racial identity which in turn allows them to develop feelings of greater self-understanding. In addition, individuals at this stage develop more feelings of anger and distrust towards other racial groups, including the dominant group. These feeling are then released during the fourth stage, introspection. They begin to redirect that negative energy into placing focus on themselves. They have a greater commitment to understanding the positive and negative aspects of various minority groups. Integrative awareness is the final stage where the individual gains a sense of security and appreciation towards their own ethnic/racial identity. They seek out others who identify with them and is able to view themselves as a unique individual and a member of a larger society, acceptance of their racial identity.

black woman sitting, speaking

It is difficult to process such a wide range of emotions when trying to find one’s self. With the RCID in play, an individual has a better chance to understand that these feelings and emotions are common among POC and it can help them grow and adapt to accept who they are. Everyone does not necessarily go through every single stage and evidently there are people who find themselves stuck in just one stage. It is important that people are aware of these stages because it may help them understand the way that they view themselves.

Before this course I do not believe that I would have come across this model on my own. It is disheartening to accept the fact that as a POC, RCID is not something I was aware of. POC on campuses of PWI’s can find it difficult to adapt and develop a safe space where they feel they can be themselves. People grow into their own skin at all different ages, whether you are 15 or 55 years old it does not always happen naturally. Confidence in oneself is imperative for personal development as a whole. When individuals are unable to become in touch with their own racial identity they lose out on the bond and power one holds to connect with others of similar or same racial identity and develop a greater sense of who they are. How can society and PWI’s in general expect POC to grow as an individual when they do not understand how to process their own racial identity?

Asian female in graduation robe

Maybe Muhlenberg and other PWI’s can give more anonymous talks and provide more support for individuals that might not necessarily accept who they are. In what ways could Muhlenberg be able to provide such support without having their students of color feeling targeted or upset that the college does not believe they are accepting of who they are? Additionally, how can they provide this support without forcing someone to take steps they might not be ready to face yet? These are questions that I think are important to ask because while some individuals have a strong sense of self and racial identity other individuals who identify as a POC might not be at that stage yet.

Sources for further reading:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Improving Cultural Competence. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 59.) Exhibit 2-1, Stages of Racial and Cultural Identity Development. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK248422/table/ch2.t1/

Cokley, Kevin & Vandiver, Beverly. (2012). Ethnic and Racial Identity. The Oxford Handbook of Counseling Psychology. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195342314.013.0011.

This is a special post in a series authored by students in Professor Wolfe’s Spring 2019 Research Lab. We are studying the experiences of students of color at PWIs.

2 thoughts on “Who knew there was a Racial Cultural Identity Development Model?”

  1. Wow this is a great point about how students of color are often times at different stages of their identities. I personally believe that understanding development models helps all students in understanding why someone might react the way that they do, depending on the stage of their growth. In addition to Racial/Cultural identity models for people of color, there are also developmental stages for white people. It could be potentially helpful for everyone to understand where they fall on their identity development as the final stage is not only accepting privilege, but helping work towards a non racist society! Since college is already a time period of personal growth, understanding developmental stages can help all students mature and work together.

  2. Lucy, this is such an important read and I’m so interested with how can they give support when people aren’t ready to take those steps. I challenge you to think if we would question that if it was a white person, in my opinion even when we do it’s countered with offering it regardless so that when they are ready they have the support. I do not think we offer that support at all times but rather occasionally and like you highlighted, everyone is at different stages. Do you think if Muhlenberg offered more long-term, concrete support for SOC throughout their time it would be better than the current “support” Muhlenberg says they offer?

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