Publication Date

Summer 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication Studies


Deanna L. Fassett


Dialectical Tensions, First Generation College Students

Subject Areas



Current scholarly research on first generation college (FGC) students is concerned with attrition rates of these students and other ways institutions of higher education count FGC students. However, much of this research focuses on negative characteristics (e.g., "at-risk," low income) often associated with the FGC student community. Not only do these reports exclude the success rates of FGC students, but they also overlook the other identities that these students experience, such as working class identity. We know little of how these students negotiate this identity in their communication with others and how this process affects their communication in college classrooms.

Using relational dialectics theory, this study goes beyond examining how many FGC students succeed in school by providing an in-depth examination into the experiences of these students. It is important to understand how FGC students navigate higher education and what actions they take that they feel contribute towards their success in or withdrawal from college. This study identifies three tensions that emerge for FGC students: predictability-novelty, autonomy-connectedness, and openness-closedness. This study also analyzes the ways in which FGC students manage and negotiate these tensions. After discussing implications that these tensions have for FGC students, this study offers suggestions for students, educators, universities, and researchers to invite constructive ways to cope with these dialectical tensions as they emerge.