Jieyi Ding, '19

May 14, 2019
International student explores psychology of group identity through leadership studies honors thesis

“My name is Jieyi Ding. I also have an English name, Crystal. These two names remind me all the time of my identities as both a Chinese and a college student at the University of Richmond.”

So begins the introduction to Ding’s leadership studies honors thesis, “Leadership and Intergroup Relations.”

“I have friends who are really different from each other,” Ding, ’19, continues in her thesis introduction. “It has been bothering me that I could never really hang out with my Chinese friends and my American friends at the same time. People of different identities all have their own groups and … seldom interact with each other. How can I make them interact so that I do not need to pick whom I am going to spend time with?”

This question, born of her personal experience as an international student at University of Richmond, prompted Ding, a native of Wuxi, China, to pursue an honors thesis under the guidance of leadership studies professor and social psychologist George Goethals. In doing so, the Science Leadership Scholar explored issues relevant to both her leadership studies and psychology majors.

Her research considered whether the racial identity of the group leader—white or African-American—influenced the leader’s effectiveness. She also examined the effectiveness of leaders who promote inter-group relational identity, which emphasizes the inter-dependency of subgroups with distinct characteristics, versus those who promote collective identity, which emphasizes commonality between subgroups.

By way of example, Ding described University of Richmond students with strong inter-group relational identities as those who identify strongly with a particular subgroup, such as a fraternity or sorority, a sports team, or one of many student organizations, including those for specific racial or ethnic groups.

By contrast, Richmond students with a strong collective identity think of themselves as Spiders first and foremost.

Of the 236 people Ding surveyed for her research, 229 were Richmond undergraduates, including 137 whites; 39 Asian-Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders; 17 African-Americans; 12 Hispanic-Americans and Latinos; and 24 bi-racial or multi-racial individuals.

Her research results were mixed. Survey participants, including white students, rated the African-American leader higher. On the other hand, participants rated African-American students in general more positively when the message came from the white leader, indicating that the message of the white leader was more effective.

Ding continues to be fascinated by identity within and between subgroups.

“We don’t talk about race in China,” she said, “because the majority of the people are one ethnicity. However, in my UR classes, we talk about subgroups, such as racial minorities and LGBTQ people. Through class discussions, I became more attentive to underrepresented groups, their history, and the rights they have been fighting for.

"My leadership studies and psychology majors are both about people, why they behave a certain way, and how they interact with each other.”

Ding explored her own identity as a Chinese student within the larger University community by assuming several leadership roles, including president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, mentor and academic chair in the Peer Advisors and Mentors Program, and Westhampton College Government Association president of the class of 2019 and board of elections chair. Westhampton College named her the 2019 recipient of the Leslie Sessoms Booker Award in recognition of her service to the campus community.

"I recognize that sometimes the leader has to make the decisions, but I like to do so after involving other people in the decision-making process," Ding said of her leadership style.  

Following graduation, Ding will be looking for jobs in the United States and eventually plans to pursue a graduate degree in a field related to psychology.

Photo: Jieyi Ding, '19, explains her leadership studies honors thesis to a visitor at the Jepson Student Research Symposium.