Atkinson, Morten and Sue’s Racial and Cultural Identity Development

Brief Overview

Atkinson, Morten, and Sue’s model served to be the primary model of all of the racial identity theories. The model conceptualizes the basic progressions an individual goes through when defining his or her racial identity. Although there are many models that have followed this premier, student affairs professionals can still facilitate conversations about race through this model, especially when a group is compromised of mixed races.

Printable Summary (PDF)

Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:  

  • Conformity
    • One identifies with white culture, learns and assumer stereotypes and has no inkling to identify or learn about their own racial or ethnic heritage.
  • Dissonance
    • Encounter is the catalyst for one to question white culture and begin an interest in one’s own racial or ethnic group
  • Resistance and Immersion
    • Individual withdrawals from white culture to delve into his or her own racial or ethnic exploration in the effort to define a new identity.
  • Introspection
    • Individual actively seeks to integrate the redefined identity into the dominant culture without compromising aspects of his or her own racial or ethnic identity
  • Synergistic Articulation and Awareness
    • Optimum identity; Individual is able to identify as he or she wishes, appreciate other cultures including the dominant culture and balance all aspects of his or her heritage.
Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.

Annotations of Associated Literature

“Students who worked with advisors who encouraged reflection in goal setting and intentional planning and discussed with students their nonacademic life experiences were more likely to develop abilities and perspectives associated with self-authorship” (Evans et al., 190).

Original Citation

Atkinson, D. R., Morten, G., & Sue, D. W. (1979). Counseling American minorities: A cross- cultural perspective. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

Atkinson, D. R., Morten, G., & Sue, D. W. (1989). Counseling American minorities: A cross-cultural perspective (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Brown.

Additional Resources


This page was written and created by Michelle Robinson. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at