Abstract: Impact of Discrimination on International Students' Emotional Well-Being, Identity, Relationship and Help-Seeking Dynamics (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Impact of Discrimination on International Students' Emotional Well-Being, Identity, Relationship and Help-Seeking Dynamics

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Independence BR H, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Dasha Shamrova, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS
Cristy Cummings, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Florida, FL
Deborah Johnson, PhD, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Rachel Schwartz, Bachelor Program Graduate, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background: Every year, almost 1 million international students reside in the United States, pursuing higher education. Despite positive aspects of pursuing a degree abroad, there is a cost associated with this decision. International students and their spouses (ISS) experience discrimination in a number of settings, including the university, which may lead to distress and overall decreased emotional well-being, as well as identity issues. Racial prejudice, discrimination related to cultural or language differences, and isolation are areas that the students may find themselves unprepared to navigate. In some cases, the effects of discrimination may be ameliorated university or community services, however ISS are often less likely to seek help, despite increased need. This study explores the impacts of discrimination on ISSs’ well-being and reciprocal nature of those negative outcomes.

Method: Photovoice methodology, a qualitative community-focused participatory action approach, was utilized. Eleven international students and seven spouses from 13 different countries were recruited and divided into three groups. Three audio recorded Photovoice sessions were held for each group over three weeks. In each, participants were asked one question about their experiences at the university and in the broader community. Photographs were presented, and three photographs per session were discussed in detail. Dedoose was used by three independent coders. An iterative review of the coding process was conducted to ensure inter-rater agreement. Data were analyzed using code co-occurrence charts in order to identify the impacts of discrimination on ISSs’ well-being. Most prevalent co-occuring codes are described below.

Results: Eight out of eighteen participants shared their experience of being discriminated based on their culture, religion, accent, and appearance. They described occurrences of discrimination that happened on campus (e.g. in a lab, in a classroom) as well as in the broader community (e.g. on the bus, at the workplace). Participants described the effects of discrimination in four themes: emotional well-being, identity, relationship, and help-seeking. They discussed negative impacts on their emotional well-being, especially feeling distressed and being depressed due to discrimination. These negative emotions in a larger extent were connected to discrimination experience targeting their ethnic, religious and cultural identities which exacerbated emotional problems and delineated ISSs further from the mainstream U.S. society. Participants described the critical role of help-seeking in overcoming the negative outcomes of discrimination. However, they highlighted the lack of access to the information, non-availability of services for ISS, and complicated processes as part of their experience of dealing with negative outcomes of discrimination. Participants described the help-seeking process as complicated when they did not have a relationship with their U.S peers or university representatives.

Conclusion: These findings underline the importance of protecting all students and their families on university campuses from discrimination and understand unique circumstance of ISS. Universities should consider educating their faculty staff and students on issues that ISS face and implement strict policies that would protect them from discrimination. In addition, specific training for counseling staff on issues of identity development and mental health of ISS would help to address the negative outcomes of discrimination.