Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Applying An Intersectional Framework to the Experiences of Low-Income, First-Generation, Sexual Minority College Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catherine Stein (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kit Chan (Other)

Third Advisor

Dryw Dworsky (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)


Research on the experiences of students with marginalized identities has primarily focused on one marginalized identity at a time. Intersectional frameworks provide a context for centering the experiences of students with multiple marginalized identities. Few studies exist that examine the experiences of low-income, first-generation, sexual minority students. The present qualitative study examined first-person accounts of 16 undergraduate and graduate low-income, first-generation, sexual minority students. Participants completed individual semi-structured interviews in which they described the development of their sexual orientation identity, their first-generation college status, their adjustment and integration into the university community, and nature of their relationships with family, friends, and members of the university community. Using a grounded theory framework, student accounts described a variety of ways that they felt different from peers and family as they navigated the university with limited economic, social, and cultural capital. Students described institutional barriers related to their struggle to find a sense of belonging that stemmed from both their first-generation status and their LGBTQ identities. Students identified pride in their personal growth and accomplishments as students and identified people who have supported them throughout their academic journeys. Implications of study findings for research, clinical practice, and academic institutional change are discussed.