R. Fuentes

University of Memphis (UNITED STATES)
The educational and cultural adjustments of English learners’ (ELs) in an educational system are tumultuous and complex (Watt, Roessingh, & Bosetti, 1996). Through school culture, universities can powerfully affect ELs’ advancement by ultimately facilitating or hindering their academic and social performance, engagement, and goals (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). At the university level, research examining the relationship between institutional culture and students tends to focus on the experiences and perceptions of racial or ethnic groups (Cabrera & Nora, 1994; Hurtado, 1992, 1994), yet there is little investigation of the interaction between university culture and ELs. As part of a larger project that examines ELs’ experiences of university culture, the present study focuses on research collected from one female undergraduate EL, Nasim, and several university faculty and administrators through interviews, observations, and participant journals at a major U.S. university. Adopting a case study design, the research data focuses on Nasim’s experiences and characterizations of the university culture and how certain features affected her academic and social life at a public university. Findings suggest that the EL perceived university culture as affecting her full participation at and engagement with the university. Additionally, success at the university largely depended on the assimilation and resistance strategies she developed in response to university culture. Nasim weighed the benefits of her strategies against the costs of those strategies in terms of attaining her goals at the university. At times, her actions incurred great losses on a social and personal level. Yet, she principally viewed that the gains made by these actions outweighed the losses because it allowed her to achieve her objectives. Although, the coping strategies used by ELs like Nasim to navigate the university system can further EL marginalization and alienation, these same strategies can also lead to EL success.