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Pasadena City College

Academics, Identity and the Importance of Groundedness

Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden

Formal Outline:

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
I. What is Identity
II. My Story: Arrival to the U.S.
A. High School Experience
1. Involvement in the Arts
2. Discontinuing involvement in Arts
B. Community College Experience
1.Encouragement from Professor: Feeling of Belonging
C. Dropping out
1. Name Change
2. Rejection of Cultural Identity
3. Academic Indecision
III. Research on Identity
A. Importance of Group Affiliation
IV. Reconnecting with family and loved ones
V. Influence of Socioeconomic Status vs. Sense of Identity on Academic Performance
VI. Acculturation does not necessarily support Academic Growth
VII. Importance of Cultural Identity and Groundedness


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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
This research paper focuses on the relationship between self-concept or self-identity
academic performance. Studying the connection between these two can provide a better
understanding of situations that can affect the sense of self-identity. I present my personal
experience with identity and academic performance and connect this experience with findings
from studies performed by academic researchers as a means to examine the importance of being
conscious about self-identity. The findings of this research paper indicate that the concept of
identity is perhaps the larger aspect that can affect academic performance, and that connecting
with others who share a similar culture can help strengthen the sense of identity and yield better
academic performance.


A persons identity is not an assemblage of separate affiliations, nor a kind of loose

patchwork; it is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it,
just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound, wrote Amin

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
Maalouf in his book In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (26). This
notion of identity silently affects the level of expression of our personalities and the authenticity
of the steps we choose to take in our lives. At the age of eighteen we are considered adults for the
first time, and this year is also when we graduate from high school, and go to college. This is
when we must know what our majors are, and the purpose of our college education. However,
due to socioeconomic reasons, many of us do not clearly see what forms of expression our
personalities can successfully yield to. Studies indicate that there is a strong correlation between
our senses of identity and academic performance. Given the statistics of student mental health
crisis, and the dropout rates in underrepresented students, a question arises about what can be
done to address this problem. While certain reasons like low-income, first-generation minority
status are seen to affect school performance, it is important to consider why and how this
happens. Even though rising costs of schools put minorities in a disadvantage of completing
school education, my research paper will be primarily about the relationship between sense of
identity and academic performance. It is my finding that the level of self-identity hugely affects
academic achievement, and addressing this can be the solution behind drop out rates in at-risk
When I arrived in the United States in the January of 2007, as a permanent resident I
went straight to high school, while skipping sometimes required ESL preparation due to my
sufficient knowledge of the English language. During my years in high school, involvement in
musical theatre and advanced choir got me through the most difficult year, 11th grade, which

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
also was the year I became a straight A student. After I dropped those activities to focus more on
academics, however, my grades plummeted. At the time, I attributed this to my declining mental
health. Only later did I realize that practicing a performance art gave me a sense of belonging
and identity in a world I was still very unfamiliar to me.
After graduation, I started attending a community college in Pasadena, even though my
commute was close to two hours when it could have been less than twenty minutes had I
attended the closer college. This was all because in 11th grade, my math professor encouraged
me to further my studies in math and science as I was doing really well in his math classes. So,
highly affected by his encouragement, I decided to study a science major, as I had found possibly
another place I belonged to.
As a first-generation, low-income student I was faced with many obstacles upon my
arrival in community college. Unprepared for college, I was greeted with bad grades, stress,
constantly changing majors, student debt and rising disagreements in the family.
Major changes having had eroded the level of my resilience, I eventually submitted to dropping
out. I told myself that I needed time to reflect and find my place again.
In the meantime, I acquired my United States citizenship, and in the process of that I
changed my name as I was in the process of (re)building my sense of identity. I changed my
first name from Mariam to Mary, and my last name from Mkhitaryan to my mothers last
name, Abgarian. The rejection in my previous name was due to my mothers extremely
religious reasons behind her decisions. The rejection in my last name was an act of rejecting my

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
fathers poor treatment of women. I felt that the identity in my previous name was not really
mine, but rather one forced upon me. This however, more than anything, was a sign of internal
conflict to others. And rightly so, it was exactly that.
After moving to the United States, I disconnected myself from my cultural identity as
well, as I strove to find my true self without all the conservative expectations of how to be. I felt
very liberated, yet a bit confused and alone. And this exploration of who I really was took
precedence over my studies. If I didnt know who I was, how could I possibly know what I
wanted to do for the rest of my life?
Researchers Arroyo and Zigler elaborate on the definition of identity as follows:
The term identity is intricately connected to an individuals perception of the
unique characteristics that distinguish him or her from others. Within this larger context
of self-definition, the individual also develops a sense of group belonging that arises from
a clear awareness of the existence of boundaries between various groups and his or her
strong identification with a particular group. (qtd. in Ekimyan 11).
Yet Ekimyan further clarifies that developing an identity can be a lifelong process (12). So even
if I took time off to understand who I really was before completing college education, there was
still no guarantee that I would reach a complete understanding.
Taking time off as my family helped me get back on my feet, helped me reestablish
broken relationships with my family. During this time, I also visited my country for the first time
since I moved to the U.S., and saw my grandmother, aunt, sister, childhood best friend, walked

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
by my old house left in ruins, walked inside and greeted the people residing in it. It was a painful
yet invaluable experience of reconnecting with my origin. I remembered the last time I looked at
my house teary-eyed was when I was leaving my country. At the time I thought that I was never
going to come back again. I assume that is another reason I perhaps felt the need to disconnect
from my roots.
According to an article posted in American Psychological Association,
While family poverty is associated with dropping out, poverty in schools and
communities also adds to the reason why students might drop out. , the author then goes on to
point out that, More than 40 years ago, famed sociologist James Coleman demonstrated that a
student's achievement is more highly related to the characteristics of other students in the school
than any other school characteristic (Coleman et al., 1966). Subsequent research has confirmed
this finding and even found that the racial/ethnic and social class composition of schools was
more important than a students own race, ethnicity and social class in explaining educational
outcomes (Borman & Dowling, 2010). While, in This study shows that, as expected, students
identity is largely influenced by his/her peers, and that sense identity has even a larger influence
on students academic achievement than their socioeconomic status. Although, as Lanny Davis
states in an article in Huffington Post, excessive student debt will harm low-income students as
this creates more stress about the future.
In an abstract of a study conducted by American Psychological Association, the
researcher conducted that With increased acculturation immigrant college students experienced

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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
greater stress and depression, which caused a decline in both their grade point averages and in
their self-esteem. So, while it is important to adapt to a new culture, to decrease levels of stress
and depression, it is important to form a sense of community with other people who share the
same cultural identity.
As Caralee Adams points out in Education Week 2013, first-generation students are less
prepared for college as their peers of college-educated parents. If this affects students graduation
then this is yet another example of the importance of the sense of belonging which reinforces
identity. Good sense of identity further increases efficiency of the educational system.
I think this is one of the most important issues that we have," National Economic Council Director
Gene Sperling said on making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to four-year
institutions, as noted in an article by Sophie Quinton in National Journal in 2014. Ways in which colleges
can address this issue in students attending community colleges, is by educating their student body of
different cultures that make up a student's identity. Education about different cultures and diversity in the
student body can help all students feel less alienated and more connected.

As a student who experienced the difficulties associated with acculturation, and

dwindling sense of identity, I believe it is important to be connected to ones own heritage, as a
means of grounding oneself. While this is not the only aspect of our identity, in todays culturally
diverse classrooms, it is an important part of identity to consider and be aware of.


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Mary Abgarian
Professor Ogden
English 1A - 5068
24 June 2016
Ekimyan, Roza. "First-Generation Armenian American Community College Students' Perception of
Events Affecting their Identity Development." Order No. 3311138 University of Southern California,
2008. Ann Arbor: ProQuest.Web. 21 June 2016.
Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. Trans. Barbara Bray. New
York: Penguin, 2000.
Rumberger, Russell W. "Poverty and high school dropouts." American Psychological Association. 22 Jun.
2016 <>.
American Psychological Association, "Acculturation, psychological adjustment (stress, depression, selfesteem) and the academic achievement of Jamaican immigrant college students." Abstract. International
Social Work 45.7 (2002):447-464. Web. 23 June 2016.
Quinton, Sophie. "Rethinking the Role of Community Colleges." National Journal 27 Feb. 2014.
Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 June 2016.
Adams, Caralee J. "College Preparation; 'The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2013: FirstGeneration College Students'." Education Week 13 Nov. 2013: 5. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web.
21 June 2016.
Davis, Lanny J. "Excessive Regulation of Student Debt Will Harm Low-Income Students." Student
Loans. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. At Issue. Rpt. from "Education
Department's 'Gainful Employment' Proposed Regulations Gone Awry." 2010.
Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 June 2016.