Social Identity, Campus Culture, and STEM Persistence at Selective Colleges and Universities
Anthony Johnson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Decades of scholarship has found that peer groups affect a variety of academic outcomes, from students’ attitudes about schooling, to their educational aspirations, to their grades. However, it is less clear how academic peer groups are formed and how they reproduce disparities in academic achievement. Opening the black box of academic contexts like STEM at elite colleges and universities, this dissertation reveals how undergraduate students sort into socially segregated and stratified academic peer groups. Combining interviews with a socio-demographically diverse group of 80 students with ethnographic observations of classes and extracurricular life at an elite engineering school, I show that while academically rigorous contexts are presumed to be meritocratic and value sheer book smarts and hard work, students draw on an array of cultural tools to navigate these peer groups, and the activation of particular social and cultural resources—attributed to social class and related pre-college experiences, race/ethnicity, and gender—systematically allow some students to be academically incorporated while others are excluded. The dissertation tests the generalizability of these findings by predicting the relationship between students’ cultural orientations and various STEM achievement outcomes using a nationally representative longitudinal survey dataset of students at selective colleges and universities. The dissertation’s findings have implications for sociological theory, higher education practice, and policy.
About Anthony Johnson
Anthony Johnson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Northwestern University with research interests at the intersection of culture, social inequality, and education. Anthony holds a B.A. and an M.A. in sociology from the University of Kansas and Northwestern University respectively. His dissertation examines the cultural mechanisms that reproduce disparities in STEM experiences, achievement, and persistence at elite colleges and universities. Drawing on a combination of interview, ethnographic, and survey data, he seeks to understand how STEM institutional policies, practices, and norms as well as the class-, race-, and gender-based cultural and social resources students bring to college contribute to the reproduction of STEM disparities. Anthony’s work has previously been funded by a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation and he was named a finalist for the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in 2013.

Pin It on Pinterest