Scholars of Asian America have used and contested models of panethnicity to describe Asian American identity. This dialogue can benefit from more attention to the multiple, fluid interpretations in the diaspora around what “Asian American” identity means. Based on 41 interviews with Asian American college students at two institutions on the West coast and East coast, I explore how Asian American college students understand and negotiate “Asian American” identity in different contexts. My results suggest that Asian American panethnic and ethnic identities operate as floating signifiers within predominantly white institutions (PWI). Depending on the historical, structural and cultural contexts of the PWI, Asian American college students have different capacities and resources to ascribe and contest meanings assigned to the label “Asian American.” My findings point to how Asian American identity operates as a floating signifier sensitive to local and institutional contexts.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Jamie Kucinskas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.