Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 09/04/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Afifi, Tamara

Second Advisor

Colvin, Carolyn

First Committee Member

McLaren, Rachel

Second Committee Member

Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel

Third Committee Member

Mikucki-Enyart, Sylvia


First generation college students, defined as students whose parents did not attend or complete education after high school, currently make up about one in three college undergraduates. First generation students often face difficulties adapting to the college environment and find their identities challenged in efforts to find success. Much research about first generation students positions students as having “risk factors” due to their backgrounds rather than the institution as inadequate to meet their needs. In order to explore how a four-year institution was and was not meeting the needs of some first generation students, I conducted an analysis of White and Latinx-identifying students’ experience of mattering and marginality using Critical Discourse Analysis as my method. The purpose of this study is to understand how first generation student represent their sense of belonging through language use.

Based on qualitative analyses of focus group comments, students described mattering and marginality as occurring within multiple areas of the college experience. Throughout these areas, or “spheres,” participants described the roles of interpersonal and institutional communication that positioned them to feel a sense of belonging or marginality. Students reported experiencing marginality because of 1) issues of money, 2) not knowing things they might be expected to know, and 3) others not understanding their experiences and identities. Students experienced mattering with 1) community and 2) administrators. They also described feeling mattering and marginality simultaneously in some situations. Furthermore, students experienced campus differently based on their racial and ethnoracial identities. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed to better serve the needs of first generation students.


belonging, college, critical discourse analysis, first generation, higher education, Latinx


xiii, 258 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 192-217).


Copyright © 2019 Audrey Katherine Scranton

Available for download on Saturday, September 04, 2021

Included in

Communication Commons