Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Meredith Redlin


The purpose of this study is to examine how the intersections of race, class, gender and place impact identity negotiation among first generation female graduate students and how these identities are influenced and shaped by the structures and role expectations of both home and academic environments. This research addresses the scarcity of literature on first generation graduate level students, as well as the lack of intersectional research in identity and student development studies. Additionally, there has been a dearth of literature focusing on class, race, and place, and how these identities influence women’s feelings of being academic imposters. Thus, the extensive and more profound experience of graduate education has the potential to shed light on whether identity struggles related to the imposter phenomenon persist throughout the life span. An intersectional analysis revealed that female first generation student experiences were characterized by a lack of knowledge both prior to and during college. This sense of ‘not knowing’ across the intersections of race, class, gender and place strongly impacted respondents’ identity, as well as their entire college experience. Repercussions included barriers to personal and academic progress, as well as systemic isolation, resulting in increased self-sufficiency and lack of belonging. Qualitative findings revealed a strong connection between female first generation graduate students lack of knowledge and the imposter phenomenon. The intersection of gender, class and race created a situation of double and triple disadvantage for students, which increased feelings of fraudulence and fear of being unmasked. Thus, first generation poor to working class female students of racial/ethnic minority are at higher risk for developing characteristics of the imposter phenomenon that can more profoundly affect their identity, and in a larger sense, their overall well-being. Quantitative findings indicate that higher family income, higher community population, and higher maternal educational status are significantly associated with lower scores on a measure of imposter feelings, Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale (CIPS, Clance 1985). Conversely, Native American racial identity was associated with higher CIPS scores, indicating intense imposter feelings. Native American respondents also reported experiencing a heightened sense of isolation and “token” status throughout their educational experiences, as well as greater difficulty negotiating identity in both home and academic cultures.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Women graduate students
Graduate students--Socialization
First-generation college students


Includes bibliographical references (pages 152- 164)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © Nicole B. Lounsbery

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Sociology Commons