“I can't push off my own Mental Health”: Chilly STEM Climates, Mental Health, and STEM Persistence among Black, Latina, and White Graduate Women

Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel, Amanda Arnold, Jennifer Bekki, Madison Natarajan, Bianca Bernstein, Ashley K. Randall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Drawing on 12 semi-structured interviews with Black, Latina, and white graduate women who either continued or discontinued their STEM doctoral degrees, the present study examined the psychological impact of navigating marginalizing experiences in white male-dominated STEM environments. Using thematic analysis grounded in a social constructivist paradigm, researchers identified three emergent themes: 1) institutional challenges as contextual barriers, 2) impact on wellbeing and STEM persistence, and 3) contextual supports and coping. These findings indicate that challenging STEM encounters within the higher education environment contributed to increased stress, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among graduate women in STEM from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds. The compound effect of these STEM stressors and their subsequent psychological toll contributed to decreased STEM persistence among participants. Study implications highlight the need for faculty and university administrators to challenge and address institutional norms that operate as contextual barriers, destigmatize discussions surrounding mental health, and adopt a “whole person” approach to supporting graduate women in STEM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-232
Number of pages25
JournalSex Roles
Volume86
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Keywords

  • Doctoral
  • Graduate
  • Mental health
  • Persistence
  • STEM
  • Women
  • Women of color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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