Impostor Syndrome as a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Issue
Imposturous feelings are common in academic settings. That is, many students fail to internalize their successes, feel that they are less capable than they actually are, and have strong feelings of self-doubt and fraudulence. These feelings are associated with negative mental health outcomes and — although it is typically bright and highly competent students who experience imposturous feelings — they are associated with poorer academic success.
Students who are underrepresented in postsecondary education experience imposturous feelings more intensely, including ethnic minority students, women in STEM fields, or students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. This is one more barrier to success for underrepresented students.
We recently sought to uncover why some underrepresented university students (in particular, students considering themselves relatively lower in SES) experience heightened imposturous feelings. We found that students who considered themselves lower in SES reported lower feelings of belongingness at university, which went on to predict heightened imposturous feelings. These students, relative to students considering themselves relatively higher in SES, felt less like they fit in, felt less welcome, and felt less enthusiastic to be at university. These feelings promoted imposturous feelings in the students, such as feeling that their success is the result of some sort of error or luck, discounting their successes, or feeling like they are fooling others into thinking they are more competent than they actually are.
Recognizing the deleterious outcomes of imposturous feelings among university students, many postsecondary institutions have established programs to reduce these feelings, often targeted at those from underrepresented groups. Our research suggests that increasing a sense of belongingness may be an important component to incorporate into such programs. It is critical to foster a sense of belongingness and reduce imposturous feelings to facilitate student success.
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This post first appeared on Academic Outliers and has been republished with permission.