Navigating Multiple Worlds: A Grounded Theory of Latina Students' Identity as Latina First-Generation College Students

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The purpose of this study was to explore Latina students' identity as Latina first-generation college students. Constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) was used to explore two research questions: (a) For Latina students who are the first in their family to go to college, what is their understanding of being a Latina first-generation college student? (b) What strengths do Latina first-generation college students associate with being a Latina first-generation college student? A grounded theory of Latina students' identity as Latina first-generation college students was an outcome of this study. Two interviews were conducted with 12 Latina first-generation college students enrolled at the University of Maryland. Participants were considered first-generation college students if their parents' educational background did not exceed high school in the U.S. or some postsecondary education outside of the U.S., and if a sibling had not preceded them in attending college. Participants were racially/ethnically diverse, with the majority of students identifying as Central and South American.

The metaphor, navigating multiple worlds, particularly the Family Environment and the University Environment, describes the negotiation of experiences that inform Latina students' identity as Latina first-generation college students. Core identities of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Role as College Student, and Role within Family represent multiple and intersecting dimensions salient to Latina students' identity as Latina first-generation college students. Latina first-generation college students negotiated Latino/a Values and Expectations, "American" Values and Expectations, College and Family Responsibilities, Pioneering Higher Education, Responsibility to Give Back to Family and Latino/a Community, and Pressure and Pride. Living at the intersection of multiple worlds, including experiences as "the first" to attend an institution of higher education and engaging both in Latino/a culture and in "American" culture, contributed to the pressure that Latina first-generation college students experience. Latina students also received support from these distinct environments that enabled the participants to engage in culturally and educationally distinct worlds. Participants associated six strengths with being Latina first-generation college students: Family, Latino/a Culture, Spanish Language/Being Bilingual, Determination, Support Network - Prior to College and During College, and Sense of Responsibility to Help Others. This study has implications for research, theory, and practice.