The complexity of cultural mismatch in higher education: Norms affecting first-generation college students' coping and help-seeking behaviors

Chang, Wang, Mancini, McGrath-Mahrer, & Orama de Jesus / Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology / October 2019

First-generation college students commonly experience financial, academic, and personal challenges that are exacerbated by a cultural mismatch between independent university settings and interdependent family environments. There is a paucity of research on the influence of cultural norms, including cultural mismatch, on first-generation college students' coping and help-seeking behaviors. The present research explored how cultural norms affect coping and help seeking for academic, financial, and psychological problems among diverse first-generation college students. Eleven individual interviews were conducted to obtain pilot data, and 8 group interviews (n = 60) were conducted to examine cultural norms, relational concerns, coping, and social support. These same 71 participants (51% Ethnic Minority; 49% White; 70% female) completed a background survey (e.g., demographics, use of resources, coping, and family obligation). Most students were self-reliant and underutilized social support because of concerns about negatively affecting close relationships; these relational concerns included burdening others, being judged by others, and making matters worse. Concerns about face loss and group harmony were heightened among ethnic minority students. Despite limited quantitative evidence for White-Ethnic Minority differences in coping and psychological and academic functioning, minority students reported higher levels of family obligation.