FIRST-GENERATION STUDENTS’ IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION, CONCEALMENT, AND COVID-DRIVEN RECKONINGS: RECONCILING SELF-DEFINITIONS AMID INSTITUTIONAL CONTRADICTION

Linda M. Waldron, Danielle Docka-Filipek, Carlie Carter, Rachel Thornton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

First-generation college students in the United States are a unique demographic that is often characterized by the institutions that serve them with a risk-laden and deficit-based model. However, our analysis of the transcripts of open-ended, semi-structured interviews with 22 “first-gen” respondents suggests they are actively deft, agentic, self-determining parties to processes of identity construction that are both externally imposed and potentially stigmatizing, as well as exemplars of survivance and determination. We deploy a grounded theory approach to an open-coding process, modeled after the extended case method, while viewing our data through a novel synthesis of the dual theoretical lenses of structural and radical/structural symbolic interactionism and intersectional/standpoint feminist traditions, in order to reveal the complex, unfolding, active strategies students used to make sense of their obstacles, successes, co-created identities, and distinctive institutional encounters. We find that contrary to the dictates of prevailing paradigms, identity-building among first-gens is an incremental and bidirectional process through which students actively perceive and engage existing power structures to persist and even thrive amid incredibly trying, challenging, distressing, and even traumatic circumstances. Our findings suggest that successful institutional interventional strategies designed to serve this functionally unique student population (and particularly those tailored to the COVID-moment) would do well to listen deeply to their voices, consider the secondary consequences of “protectionary” policies as potentially more harmful than helpful, and fundamentally, to reexamine the presumption that such students present just institutional risk and vulnerability, but also present a valuable addition to university environments, due to the unique perspective and broader scale of vision their experiences afford them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationStudies in Symbolic Interaction
PublisherEmerald Publishing
Pages109-147
Number of pages39
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 30 2024
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameStudies in Symbolic Interaction
Volume58
ISSN (Print)0163-2396

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Linda M. Waldron, Danielle Docka-Filipek, Carlie Carter and Rachel Thornton.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • First-generation
  • identity salience
  • qualitative
  • standpoint theory
  • structural symbolic interaction

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