Date Thesis Awarded


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)




Dr. Elizabeth Raposa

Committee Members

Dr. Chris Conway

Dr. Cheryl Dickter

Dr. Robert Scholnick


Underrepresented college students – including first-generation college students, students from lower-income backgrounds, and minority students – have lower rates of college completion (Fitzgerald & Delaney, 2002; Engle & Tinto, 2008; Choy, 2001). One set of factors that could play an important role in lower rates of college persistence for these students might involve higher rates of emotional distress, coupled with greater barriers to utilizing mental healthcare resources on campus (Andrews & Wilding, 2004; Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Hunt, 2009). The current study followed 59 underrepresented students (UR; 53 racial/ethnic minority; 12 immigrants; 20 first-generation; 23 low-income) and 62 non-underrepresented students (NR) during their first semester at a medium-sized, public southeastern university to compare rates of mental health problems, as well as stigma toward and utilization of mental health resources. Analyses examined 1) associated rates of emotional distress among UR upon entering college, and how these rates of emotional distress change over time, and 2) the level of perceived barriers to utilization of mental health resources, as well as actual utilization of mental health resources. At baseline, both groups reported similar prevalence of psychiatric disorders, with 30% of NR and 19% of UR reporting at least one type of psychiatric diagnosis (p = .18). While depressive symptoms and stress levels increased for both groups throughout the semester, UR had a significantly higher level of depressive symptoms during follow up and marginally higher level of perceived stress during baseline (p = .06). Contrary to the hypotheses, both groups’ perceived need for mental health resources significantly decreased across the semester, while a trend of decrease for the perceived stigma of others toward such resources (p = .06) was also observed for both groups. The two groups reported different expectations about receiving support, as well as different sources for support during college. While UR were equally likely as NR to report planning to utilize counseling center services at baseline (p =.37), UR were less likely to report the same plan at follow up. As for the actual resource utilization, UR had a trend of less utilization of therapy or counseling services in the past year, compared to NR, when asked during the baseline (p =.09). At follow up, UR reported that they received no social support at a marginally higher rate than NR (p =.06). Results have important implications for understanding risk factors for emotional distress in underrepresented students as they transition to college.