First-generation tertiary students: Access is not the same as support

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 2017, 3 (3), pp. 43 - 60
Issue Date:
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This paper argues that despite the various psychosocial factors affecting the mental health of first-generation students (FGS) in higher education, an integrated support system at the institutional level can help students overcome many of the barriers to success at university. The literature points to such factors as the social incongruity between their different worlds, lack of cultural capital, stigma of social status, and psychological factors such as imposter syndrome, and achievement guilt. All these lead to stress and anxiety, and the additional stigma associated with mental health discussions compounds the issue, and worsens the effect of these factors. The paper is based on a collaborative, relational auto-ethnographic analysis by a dyad of two women, three decades apart in age, but brought together in their roles as FGS student and educator. Despite initial difficulties experienced by the FGS student, we report successful outcomes, mainly due to the influence of key actors, especially teaching staff, who were both empathic and supportive to these students. This findings from this study point toward a more holistic approach to student mental health and wellness in higher education.
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