Addressing homesickness in university freshmen

Thurber, C.A. & Walton, E.A. (2012). Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students. Journal of American College Health, 60 (5), 415-419.

What does the research literature say about homesickness among university freshmen?  Doctors Christopher A. Thurber and Edward A. Walton provide a clear and concise summary in an article published in the Journal of American Health in 2012.

Reviewing the recent literature on the topic, the researchers presented lists of conditions that result from intense homesickness, risk and protective factors for homesickness, and empirically based strategies for both prevention and treatment.  They concluded the article by calling upon practitioners to implement and then test the effectiveness of interventions to address the issue.

Strengths and Critiques

The organization of this paper was excellent.  The paper was easy to follow, the writing was clear and concise, and the sections were both understandable and sensible.  Most importantly, the paper was a helpful contribution to the field of student retention literature because it provided an excellent and user-friendly summary of recent research on homesickness along with sound strategies for intervention.  A university administrator who wants to address homesickness among students but isn’t sure where or how to start could read this article and walk away with both an understanding of the issue and a plan for how to tackle it.

The major thing lacking in this paper is a clear theoretical framework.  The authors did not espouse any particular theory.  Instead, they just wrote about the challenges that many students face when they transition to a university setting and how those challenges can cause homesickness.  The authors also omitted a data collection and analysis section, presumably because they did not conduct an original study other than a literature review.  They did, however, note that a review had already been done on homesickness in children and adolescents, which justified that their review focus on research on young adults at postsecondary institutions.  They also noted that risk and protective factors for homesickness for youth are nearly identical as risk and protective factors for adults.

The authors’ discussion of the topic, woven throughout the paper, was particularly strong.  They noted that a simple dichotomy of students who are homesick and those who are not is not helpful to understand the issue because so many students, if not all, experience some degree of homesickness.  Instead, the authors recommended conceptualizing homesickness as a spectrum with varying intensity and then distinguishing between normal levels of homesickness and more severe levels which are problematic (including consequences such as significant distress that make those levels problematic).  This conceptualization is helpful because there are specific indicators of when homesickness levels have become above the normal intensity, and the acknowledgement that there is a normal experience of homesickness can help administrators and practitioners with implementing one of the authors’ intervention strategies, which is to normalize homesickness among students.


University and college administrators concerned with student retention should definitely address homesickness, given a finding cited in this paper that homesick students are significantly more likely to drop out of school.  I have anecdotal evidence that confirms this finding.  In my place of practice, I have noticed that homesickness is a common reason given by students when asked why they are leaving or thinking about leaving the university.  In my own experience as a university freshman, I vividly remember homesickness being a major personal struggle.  I never contemplated leaving the university, but my homesickness did contribute to several personal and academic problems.

The authors were transparent with the type of further study that might effectively build upon their research: intervention studies.  They noted that existing research on homesickness has only described the subjective experience of the issue such as risk and protective factors.  With their lists of recommended strategies for intervention complete, the authors were hoping that future researchers would actually implement and assess these strategies.  Reading that such studies have yet to be published (at least as of 2012, when this article was published), I am encouraged because I might be able to bring such an innovation to ASU and also make a needed contribution to the research literature.

Before delving into a homesickness intervention, however, I would want to know answers to two questions that were not answered in this article.  The first question is: what is the prevalence of intense homesickness among university students?  The authors cited one study that found that 7 percent of children and adolescents experienced severe levels of homesickness when away from home.  I wonder if the percentage of college students who experience these high intensity levels of homesickness is similar, lower, or higher.  I’m also curious to know if there are any trends related to homesickness in college students.  Is intense homesickness an issue that is affecting higher percentages of college students today than in previous generations?  Or has the percentage either decreased or remained steady?  On one hand, I could imagine the prevalence being lower today compared with previous generations because contemporary students have the benefit of technology such as Skype, FaceTime, cell phones, and text messaging that can help with staying closely connected with distant relatives and friends.  On the other hand, common knowledge that today’s generation of college students tends to be more reliant on their parents than previous generations might suggest that today’s students might feel more homesick when separated from home than their predecessors.

Addressing homesickness has major implications for exploring humanizing education research.  Students are not just numbers attending an institution.  They have feelings and poignant experiences that affect their success outcomes.  Building an institutional understanding of homesickness can help to humanize students and increase empathy for them from administrators by understanding their emotions. It can also help students have compassion for each other and be supportive of each other.  In my experience, I have observed that students who are struggling with an issue will keep that issue to themselves due to embarrassment and thinking that they are the only ones who are having that issue.  An intervention that draws attention to the widespread and common nature of homesickness might have the effect of encouraging students to be more open about their struggles and to be mutually supportive as they encounter and address their struggles together.


Thurber, C.A. & Walton, E.A. (2012). Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students. Journal of American College Health, 60 (5), 415-419.


Language Loss

In their introduction to Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights, McCarty and her team of guest co-editors presented a series of questions related to Indigenous education that they believed to be best explored by scholars.  The core questions were the meaning of self-determination, the placement of Indigenous epistemologies inside and outside the classroom, how human rights are implicated in these questions and their responses, and what the field of anthropology’s contribution to Indigenous peoples might be in the present and future, given the field’s damaging role in the past.  The editors acknowledged difficulty in defining some of these key terms and were careful to include the definitions they used.

I found this introduction to be insightful and educational.  For instance, I did not realize that Indigenous peoples speak such a large percentage of the world’s languages.  Based on the numbers cited by the editors, Indigenous peoples speak between 66 and 83 percent of the world’s languages despite only comprising 4 percent of the world’s population.  That’s amazing! The editors wrote that language is important because it contains local knowledge and ways of knowing.  Unfortunately, the editors also presented evidence that many of these languages are endangered because they are only spoken by older generations.  Unless patterns change, these languages will be lost when the elders who speak them pass.

The topic of language loss is personally relevant to me because I am a Latino who does not speak Spanish.  My Spanish-speaking parents made the choice to refrain from teaching me English because they wanted me to assimilate to the mainstream English-speaking culture.  My father said he didn’t want me to be teased for speaking English improperly as he had been when he was a child.  He also wanted me to do well in school, where classes were taught in English.

I wound up picking up basic Spanish by taking classes in high school and as an undergraduate in college, however, I am far from proficient.  As a result, I feel disconnected from my ethnic culture, and I feel shame that I don’t speak Spanish.  Not being able to communicate in Spanish makes me feel like I’m a “bad” Latino.  I’m especially annoyed when I am around people speaking in Spanish and I can’t understand them or when I’m listening to a salsa song and don’t know what it means.  The worst is when someone asks me if I speak Spanish (usually a fellow Latino or Latina who would like to converse with me in that language) and I have to tell that person that I don’t.  It’s like being exposed and having to confess my faults.

This makes me wonder: how do Indigenous youth feel about their inability to speak the language of their parents and grandparents?  Do they feel shame, as I do?  Are they angry about the cultural, economic, and political forces that are causing their Indigenous languages to be lost?  Has their language loss affected their cultural identity or pride?  If so, in what ways and to what extent?  Are these youth making or have they made any attempts to reclaim or save their language?  Or, are they indifferent?  What is the basis for their feelings?  Given how highly diverse Indigenous peoples are, I would suspect the answers vary.  I think it would be interesting to know percentages of each attitude toward language loss and perhaps see comparisons of attitudes toward language loss based on language.


McCarty, T.L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.


Using difference-education to make a difference

Stephens, N.M., Hamedani, M.G., & Destin, M. (2014). Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition. Psychological Science, 25(4), 943-953.

How can difference-education make a difference in the success outcomes of first-generation university freshmen?  A recently published study, authored by Nicole M. Stephens, MarYam G. Hamedani and Mesmin Destin (2014), sheds light on the matter.

Stephens, Hamedani, and Destin conducted a study to determine if an educational intervention that highlights difference and demonstrates why difference matters would reduce the achievement gap between first-generation students (those whose parents do not have a four-year college education) and continuing-generation students (whom have at least one parent who has obtained a four-year college degree).  Using a convenience sample to recruit first-year students and financial incentives to entice them to participate, the researchers organized two moderated panels of college seniors to share their personal stories of how they have succeeded at that university.  The same group of seniors spoke at each panel and shared the same stories; the only major difference between the panels was that one panel included difference-education in the form of the panelists identifying their social-class backgrounds and then linking their stories to those backgrounds, whereas the other panel did not include such mention of experience-based difference.  The group of freshmen participating in the study (which included first-generation and continuing-generation students) were randomly assigned to observe one panel or the other.

In addition to observing the panel, participating freshmen were asked immediately afterward to complete a brief survey about what they learned and how they would use that learning to advise future incoming students, and they also filmed a brief video testimonial that they were told would be used to educate the following year’s cohort of freshmen (the researchers added this wrinkle to produce the saying-is-believing effect articulated by Yeager and Walton (2011)).  At the end of the year, participants also completed a survey designed to gauge their understanding of difference, how much they utilized available student resources at the college, and the success of their college transition as determined by a range of psychosocial measures such as levels of stress and student engagement.

The results are encouraging.  After eliminating outliers and controlling for other factors such as SAT scores and high school GPA, the researchers found that the achievement gap (measured by year-end college GPA) between first-generation and continuing-generation students who observed the difference-education panel was virtually eliminated!  In contrast, a significant gap emerged between first-generation and continuing-generation students who observed the standard panel that did not contain difference-education.  The researchers also found that, although there was not a significant difference in year-end GPA between the groups of continuing-generation students who participated in the study, the group of first-generation students who observed the difference-education panel had a much higher mean GPA than the group of first-generation students who observed the standard panel.  Similar patterns emerged in relation to utilization of college resources.

This seems like a sound study.  The researchers’ survey design and statistical analysis controlled confounding variables, and results were statistically significant. Moreover, the researchers used multiple methods of obtaining data.

I am intrigued by this research because it relates directly to my area of inquiry.  It also confirms other research articles I’ve read, my own personal observations of students, and conversations I’ve had with colleagues that support the notion that, although interventions such as academic skill development programs and financial literacy education can clearly be beneficial for first-generation students, educators must also be attuned to psychological factors such as self-efficacy and feelings of belonging and hope that can impact student success outcomes.  Students can be exceptionally bright, but if they feel like they don’t belong in college, if they don’t recognize that their struggles and challenges might be related to difference in their backgrounds rather than who they are as individuals, or they don’t seek help, their chances for success are diminished.

This study also has major implications for issues of access and equity in education, which is a major national agenda.  As the authors of the study wrote, the achievement gap between first-generation and continuing-generation students is well documented, and first-generation students are a large percentage of the student population.  Therefore, administrators who are seeking to improve their institutional graduation rates and promote student success should be aware of this study and consider how they might use the findings in their own context.

The researchers identified several areas for future study.  For example, they suggested studies on how similar interventions might affect other areas in which there are educational disparities.  This study has definitely given me ideas for my own research.  I would like to try a similar intervention at ASU.  The key will be finding a way to do it at scale.

Additional Reference

Yeager, D.S., & Walton, G.M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267-301.


Changing the conversation, challenging the hegemony

A number of scholars are changing the conversation on race and, in so doing, challenging the hegemony.  These scholars are eloquently  pointing out how biases among dominant groups in academia have led to limiting the conversation on race and, consequently, limiting understandings of racial inequality and injustices.  With powerful and thought-provoking rhetoric coupled with well-documented research, these scholars are shaking up the academic enterprise.

In the first chapter of White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology, Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2008) examine the dangerous effects that bias and misconceptions of race prevalent among white researchers can have on the research questions they ask, the methods they employ, the results they obtain, and even their interpretation of their results.  As Zuberi notes:

Data do not tell us a story.  We use data to craft a story that comports with our understanding of the world.  If we begin with a racially biased view of the world, then we will end with a racially biased view of what the data have to say. (p. 7)

Zuberi also observes that many researchers erroneously attempt to study the “effect of race” (p. 8) as if race was a causal factor for various outcomes; this is erroneous because, as Zuberi explains, race in and of itself does not cause anything.  Rather, the true causes of differential experiences and societal disparities are the various forms of racism and bias.

Critical race theorists also provide compelling arguments against the dangers of only considering society through the lens of hegemonic norms.  Tara J. Yosso (2005) describes how privileging only one dominant (white) form of cultural capital has led to a deficit framing of the experience of non-dominant groups.  Yasso then names six forms of cultural wealth common in communities of color: aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, navigational capital, resistant capital, and linguistic capital.

As a Latino scholar who is committed to social justice and to utilizing research and education to advance social justice, I am excited about and grateful for the bold work being done to change the conversation and challenge the hegemony.  Too often, students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are viewed as being disadvantaged because they don’t have the forms of cultural capital that those in power deem valuable and necessary.  Rather than view these students as “less than”, we should celebrate, value, and tap into their unique forms of cultural wealth.

I’m particularly encouraged to see scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva advocating for dominant-identity researchers to critically reflect on their personal biases and to question how their perspectives influence their research.  Too often, only those with oppressed identities are made to justify their work or explain the impact of their identities on their practice.  As Bonilla-Silva demonstrated, researchers of color are interrogated about the identities of their data coders.  Similarly, female Supreme Court Justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor had to field questions about how their gender affects their decision-making on the bench; such questions are never posed to males. LGBTQ scholars sometimes need to defend their very existence.  Imagine heterosexual people being expected to complete the Heterosexual Questionnaire on a regular basis.

With the excellent consciousness-raising work being done by scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva, I am hopeful that, in time, we will see profound changes in research on and understandings of race and social justice.

Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69-91.

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Learning from youth

What happens when marginalized and oppressed youth are invited to participate as equal partners in research about their educational experiences?

The Council of Youth Research, based in Los Angeles and highlighted in an article published in the Teachers College Record (2013) , provide compelling testimony. This team of researchers, comprised of students and faculty at both the high school and college level, is doing amazing and innovative research on educational inequity in their city.  The team’s methods, insights, and reports serve as a model for the awesome potential of youth participatory action research.

The authors describe a comprehensive research plan that entails various forms of qualitative research in conjunction with quantitative data analysis.  The research team is also intentional about making sure all voices are included and represented equally.  For me, the most impressive aspect of the team’s work is the variety and creativity of ways in which the youth share their findings.  They use a multimedia approach that includes articles, PowerPoint presentations, video documentaries, and even rap.

I am inspired by the variety of methods the team uses to convey knowledge.  The multifaceted approach is intentionally inclusive, aimed so that a multitude of stakeholders can access the research findings.  It is accessibility at its finest.  This appeals to me both as someone who values inclusion and as a researcher committed to conducting research that benefits people.  Too often, research results are confined to arcane academic journals or conferences that only a privileged minority can access.  Sadly, social science research that actually could make a positive difference is not shared with people in positions of power who could implement interventions.  I am drawn to the idea of disseminating knowledge gleaned from action research in multiple ways so that more people can be exposed to and benefit from it.  Thus, one of the key lessons I learned from reading this article is that it is not only important to use a variety of methods to conduct research; it is paramount to use a variety of methods to distribute research findings.

After reading this article, I am excited about the possibilities offered by youth participatory action research and eager to try it in my own work.  My goal is to ultimately produce an innovative intervention to improve the retention, satisfaction, and success of ASU freshmen, and it seems that the most effective way to do this would be to partner with this population in designing a study to better understand their needs and experiences.  I am convinced after reading this article that involving individuals in all phases of research intended to benefit their community is the best way to achieve success.

My main concern is regarding how I could possibly replicate the practices used by the Council of Youth Research.  The time commitment required by university researchers and the high school students is enormous.  As noted by the authors of the article, Council members met for approximately 40 hours per week.  I wonder how the adults were able to get students to agree to such an extensive time commitment.  Even if I were able to figure out a way to get a group of ASU freshmen to agree to a similar schedule, it would be impossible for me to do so, given my status as a full-time employee.  I wonder what alternative arrangements might be feasible for arriving at results similar to those presented by the Council.


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory
Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth
Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303),1­23.

All about context

Shernaz B. Garcia and Alba A. Ortiz’s (2013) article, “Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education,” is an inspirational read.  The authors propose a cogent argument for analyzing disabilities and difference through the lens of intersectionality.  Essentially, their position is that intersectionality-focused research allows for a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the complex, dynamic and multi-layered issues or forces that impact educational outcomes.  Noting that we still have not achieved educational equity in spite of over forty years of research and various efforts to improve policies and schools, Garcia and Ortiz suggest that an intersectionality approach is what is needed to finally produce desired change.

I wholeheartedly agree with Garcia and Ortiz.  Reducing human beings to a single identifier or variable is not an effective way to understand them.  Instead, one must consider individual characteristics in context.  Two students who are of the same race can be in drastically different situations with respect to education based on confounding factors such as family socioeconomic background, neighborhood of residence, and school of attendance.  Therefore, it is essential to examine the complete picture and not just one aspect when trying to address educational inequity or any other societal problem.

For me, the most powerful part of Garcia and Ortiz’s article is the notion that a shift in the focus of interventions is also necessary.  After citing some educational disparities and the disproportionate amount of students of color and English Language Learners in special education, they write on page 39:

“When such large numbers of students from an identifiable group (e.g., racial/ethnic, language) fail, it is imperative to shift the focus away from student interventions to interventions directed at schools, programs, and personnel ‘at risk’ of producing ‘pedagogically-induced’ learning disabilities (Cummins, 1986, p. 666).”

This is such a powerful statement because the phrase, “at risk,” is so frequently used to label groups of students who are less likely to be successful academically.  Researchers, educators, administrators, and policy-makers who ascribe such a negative label onto students render the students as the problem.   Rather that point fingers at the students, we should reflect upon the conditions in which these students are being (mis)educated and disadvantaged.

This article pertains to my own research because I am interested in the retention, satisfaction, and success of Arizona State University freshmen.  When I conduct my research, I can use the intersectionality framework to approach issues comprehensively and from multiple angles.  Furthermore, I can be sure to consider conditions that impact student success outcomes and not just students when I ponder possible interventions.

This article is also meaningful to me personally as someone who has been a diversity and social justice educator and someone who has experienced multiple forms of both privilege and oppression.  I can relate to how frustrating it can be for an individual with many salient identities to be reduced to just one.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I have also seen it done to many others.  It’s important to always keep in mind that we all have unique combinations of identities, traits, and circumstances that constitute who we are and affect how we live.  Doing so will not only make us better researchers; it will make us better people.


Garcia, S.B., and Oriz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.