Disconnected: Examining the Help-Seeking Behaviors of Mexican American First-Generation College Students

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In college, high levels of student engagement, including the formation of relationships with faculty and staff, are positively associated with learning and development. Faculty and staff, known as institutional agents, can provide critical forms of institutional knowledge, resources, and services that can enhance the college experience and encourage student success. For Latinx students, who are disproportionately first-generation college students, these connections can make a significant difference since they may lack access to individuals in their family networks who can help them to navigate college and manage academic demands.', 'Even though Latinx students have much to gain by creating a campus support network, research suggests that they often have low levels of engagement and fail to foster institutional ties. However, the reasons why Latinx students struggle to form these connections, especially in their first-year when they most need support, have not been well documented; nor has this topic been examined at Hispanic Serving Institutions, even though they enroll more than half of all Latinx college students. Further, the current body of literature focuses on the frequency or quality of interactions between Latinx students and campus faculty and staff but fails to explain why these students encounter barriers and to consider the relational dynamics between students, the individuals who work in a college, and the college environment. ', 'Drawing on repeated interviews with 30 Mexican American first-generation college students enrolled in their first year of study at a four-year HSI, and interviews with 26 college faculty and staff, I utilized a social capital framework to examine the factors that negatively shaped how they perceived the supportive potential of campus staff and ultimately discouraged help-seeking behaviors during times of academic and personal need. Social capital refers to the benefits inherent in social relationships, while help-seeking is a primary way students can establish ties with institutional agents and access the resources available through these connections. After analysis of the data, the following three findings emerged: ', '1.\tThe college environment operated in myriad ways to promote a culture of independence that led students to feel a need to cope with and manage challenges related to the college experience solely on their own. Students also felt acting independently in college as preparation for adulthood and key to success post-college. These factors made them openly embrace independence as normative behavior as college students and downplayed the supportive potential of campus agents. Additionally, as some students moved through different spaces in a college setting, they also found inefficiencies in service delivery that impacted how they viewed agents as helpers and discouraged their use of available resources.', '2.\tSome students perceived the role and areas of support of academic advisors in limited ways. Some also felt a lack of support when it came to making decisions that would impact their college journeys. Finally, some students dealt with challenging life experiences that compromised their ability to trust campus agents. These three factors were present when examining the dynamics between students and academic advisors.', '3.\tThough designated Hispanic-Serving, there was a disconnect between institutional identity and mission that affected the university’s ability to communicate a sense of support to the Latinx student population. As a result, members of the university worried that this mismatch disrupted students’ desires to lean on them during times of need. ', 'Based on the findings, I conclude that colleges must proactively demonstrate the supportive potential of campus staff to promote positive help-seeking orientations and facilitate connections between students and college faculty and staff. For colleges to accomplish this objective, they must create a culture of care and find ways to close the distance between students and campus staff.

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  • 10/28/2019
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