Paying the widening participation penalty:Racial and ethnic minority students and mental health in British universities


Racial and ethnic minority (REM) students are more likely to experience poor mental health than their White peers yet are less likely to seek help from university counseling services. In attempting to explain this puzzle, the role of environmental factors are rarely explored, despite evidence which suggests that the university environment is itself a major factor. Here, I take a qualitative paired comparison approach to examine the influence of the university environment on the mental health and help‐seeking attitudes of REM undergraduate students, evaluating their experiences at a Russell Group university (RGU) with low REM participation and a neighboring non‐Russell Group university with high REM participation. While both universities declared a commitment to widen participation and promote inclusion for REM individuals, semi‐structured interviews with 48 REM students reveal that feelings of isolation and the experience of discrimination were heightened at the RGU. However, students at both universities described having to navigate a “minefield” of racial microaggressions and “othering.” Further, these environmental pressures are compounded by personal factors (i.e., prior help‐seeking experiences, cultural norms, and family pressures). Together, these factors largely influence both their mental health and their help‐seeking attitudes. I argue that these factors create a widening participation penalty for REM students and suggest that support for these students must go beyond initial acts of increasing diversity on campus (for example, through Widening Participation schemes). Rather, efforts should focus on addressing and reforming the institutional environments and behaviors that hinder university campuses from becoming truly inclusive and mentally healthy environments.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Policy
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social Sciences(all),Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
Publication ISSN: 1529-7489
Last Modified: 14 May 2024 07:24
Date Deposited: 10 May 2021 09:39
Full Text Link:
Related URLs: https://spssi.o ... 1111/asap.12242 (Publisher URL)
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2021-12-26
Published Online Date: 2021-05-07
Accepted Date: 2021-03-26
Submitted Date: 2021-02-04
Authors: Olaniyan, Funmi‐Victoria



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

| Preview

Export / Share Citation


Additional statistics for this record