Culture, self, and identity; social representations of race, gender, and social class in educational/health contexts; student performance, belonging, and well-being; community and school interventions


Perceived Parental Support and Identity Compatibility

In this line of work, we explore how family support shapes first-generation college students’ identity compatibility and subsequent performance.

As the first in their families to attend college, first-generation college students confront cultural discrepancies between their working-class home environment and the middle-class university environment (Stephens et al., 2012). Consequently, compared to continuing-generation college students (i.e., students with at least one college-graduated parent), first-generation college students  experience more conflicts in managing their home and school identities (Lubrano, 2003) that might undermine their identification and performance in college. Importantly, managing these identities may be influenced by perceptions of family support: while some first-generation college students receive moral and academic support for attending college, others may receive only moral support but no academic support.

In one online study, first-generation college students reported perceiving less academic support than continuing-generation college students; there were no differences in perceptions of moral support. Moreover, perceiving moral but no academic support led to less identity compatibility, which led to lower grades for first-generation college students. For continuing-generation college students, parental support or identity compatibility had no effect on grades.

Currently, we are testing how identity incompatibility (or, the conflict between home and school contexts) impacts performance in an experimental design, and examine a mechanism to explain this process.

Family Achievement Guilt, Well-being, and College Performance

Family achievement guilt is the guilt students may feel for having more educational opportunities and college success than their family members (Covarrubias & Fryberg, 2015). Consequently, students may feel that they have to minimize their academic success when with their family members. In a series of studies, we found that working-class, Latino college students were more likely to report experiencing family achievement guilt than students who were working-class White, middle-class Latino, or middle-class White. In a follow-up project (Covarrubias, Romero, & Trivelli, 2014), we found that family achievement guilt is also positively related to higher depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem for working-class college students.

Building on this work, we are currently working to develop a Family Achievement Guilt Scale. Using focus group interviews, we plan to Incorporate real narratives from first-generation college students who experience this type of guilt and capture these experiences in the scale. Once developed, we plan to examine how experiences with family achievement guilt relate to issues of performance, well-being, prosocial behaviors (e.g., volunteerism, mentorship), and retention in college. 

Daily Environment Observations and College Adjustment

In this line of work, our aim is to examine the environmental and social factors, such as daily stressors and perceptions of support, that shape well-being and performance for students who experience mismatching values within the home and school context. In the past, these factors have been measured using self-reported data.

One way to strengthen this approach is to use naturalistic observation via the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), a device that samples behavioral data acoustically in participants’ daily lives. Using the EAR, we can gain a more sensitive understanding of the cultural environments of working-class students and students of color, and how this differs from majority students, by directly sampling what happens in their daily interactions (e.g., family support, stress, dis/engagement in academics) that influences their well-being and performance.