Abstract: A Phenomenological Process: Understanding Black University Students Holistic Wellness Needs and Experiences (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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42P A Phenomenological Process: Understanding Black University Students Holistic Wellness Needs and Experiences

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Nina Johnson, Doctoral Student & Research Assistant, Indiana University School of Social Work
Background and Purpose:

It is crucial to understand undergraduate and graduate students outside of a singular definition of health. Black college students report higher levels of psychosocial stress and lower resilient coping scores due to systematic oppression and this stress can contribute to poor health behaviors. This study focused on minority stress theory, conservation of resources theory, and social belongingness theory in relation to holistic health among university students. Academic spaces function as spaces of development where students learn to live independently, but also experience various social determinants of health. Holistic wellness habits that are formed during college years can impact socialization, academic achievement, and present and future well-being. Holistic wellness is beneficial because it focuses on health prevention and quality of life. The purpose of this study was to provide a deeper context about the needs of African-American students wellness based on lived experiences.

Research questions included: What are Black undergraduate and graduate students’ lived experiences of holistic wellness on college campuses?

What are Black undergraduate and graduate students' lived experiences, and perceptions of campus promotion for holistic wellness?


Through phenomenological qualitative semi-structured interviews, I aimed to explore the daily holistic wellness habits and experiences of 5 Black students (1 undergraduate and 4 graduate) at a public Midwest university. Participants shared lived experiences of coping through wellness while simultaneously experiencing systematic oppression, political tension, and stressors on campus. In relation to health-related help seeking behaviors, students reported that they received fewer mental health services due to stigma and financial concerns. Interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to capture and understand lived experiences and everydayness of participants.

The first step was to read through the transcript and ground myself within the language, and patterns that the participant was using and saying. After reading the transcript, time was spent writing exploratory comments. This involved directly interpreting what the participant said and writing comments based on how they described their lived experience. Then after working on exploratory comments, emergent themes were created. Finally, each emergent theme was grouped with similar themes and created cluster themes.


The emerging themes from interpretive phenomenological analysis included racism, discrimination, COVID-19, mental health, socioeconomic status, religion, suicidality, and safety were emerged in this study. The 7 emergent themes included: descriptions of daily wellness routine, defining “wellness”, adjusting to school during COVID-19, financial barriers to accessing health and mental health services, expectations of University supporting student wellness needs, naming that University could do better with health promotion, and ideal campus (including wellness initiatives).

Conclusions and Implications:

Students highlighted the importance of universities providing sustainable and inclusive health promotion and programming to improve the overall health and well-being of students. Holistic wellness is multidimensional, multicultural, and multifaceted; and should be approached this way in program design. Implications for practice include advocacy for university officials to be proactive about finding solutions to eliminate costs of accessing campus health and mental health services. Additionally, culturally aware health services should be provided to students to ensure inclusivity.