An Intersectional Examination of Self-Compassion in Single Mother CalWORKs Students of Color at a Community College

Self-compassion has been shown to bolster resilience (Leary, Tate, Adams, Batts Allen, & Hancock, 2007), intrinsic motivation (Neff, Hseih, & Dejitthirat, 2005), and a general sense of well-being (Arimitsu & Hofman, 2015) as students cope with academic and life stressors. While research has begun exploring gender as a factor for self-compassion in college students (Lockard, Hayes, Neff, & Locke, 2014; Neff, Pisitsungkagarn, & Hsieh, 2008; Yarnell, Neff, Davidson, & Mullarkey, 2019), and, to a lesser extent, race (Hayes, Chun-Kennedy, Edens, & Locke, 2011; Lockard at al., 2014), there still remains a critical void of literature. Self- compassion researchers who focused on college settings have yet to explore the intersection of gender and race and have failed to consider social class entirely. To address this void of literature, the following phenomenological study explored self-compassion in 10 single mother California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) students of color at a Southern California community college. Through a thematic analysis of individual interviews and take-home journals, four common experiences of emotional distress were identified: (a) Identification as a Welfare Recipient, (b) Academic Performance, (c) Ongoing Welfare-to-Work Requirements, and (d) Restricted Time With Child Dependents. Of these experiences, three elicited connections with intersectional oppression in the areas of gender, race, and social class, with one, Restricted Time With Child Dependents, excluding a connection with racial oppression. Common ways in which participants relate to themselves during these experiences, and in general, showed connections with less self-compassion in the areas of self-judgment and overidentification, with an even split in the area of isolation versus a sense of humanity. Participation in CalWORKs and Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education student support groups and workshops where students openly share personal adversities appeared to mediate this split. Findings from this study offer important implications for the use of an intersectional framework to examine complex topics like self-compassion and offer insight for the development of a group-appropriate self-compassion intervention. The findings also demonstrate a need for welfare reform and for community college leaders to better address the mental health of single mother CalWORKs students of color at their institutions.