Overcoming adversity: an investigation of the role of resilience constructs in the relationship between socio-economic and demographic factors and academic coping
Barends, Mark Steven
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Many historically disadvantaged South Africans are entering into universities, where they are expected to perform academically not only to secure themselves a continued place at university, but also to secure themselves a place in the competitive job-market post university. Not only have these individuals been disadvantaged by an inferior schooling system, which is the legacy of apartheid, but they also struggle against the grasp of poverty, attempting to sustain themselves financially in order to afford the necessities for their survival, while still attempting to cope academically. Resilience has been presented as a process that helps individuals deal effectively with stressful events and adverse conditions. An attempt is therefore made to investigate whether resilience plays this role in the experience of disadvantaged students at university, where academic performance and adjustment represent the expected measures of coping. The aim of the study was therefore to explore the role of resilience constructs in the relationship between socio-economic and demographic variables and academic coping. The study is based within the broad framework of Psychofortology, which is the science of psychological strengths. The resilience constructs used included fortitude (measured by the Fortitude Questionnaire), hardiness (measured by the Personal Views Survey) and sense of coherence (measured by the Sense of Coherence Scale). Demographic variables included age, sex, language, town (urban/rural), with household income as an indicator of socio-economic status. Academic coping (outcome) was measured using students’ academic performance (average grade) and their adjustment to university (measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire). Participants included 164 third year Psychology students from the University of the Western Cape. Results indicate statistically significant relationships between various demographic and resilience variables; between various demographic and outcome variables; and between various resilience and outcome variables. Resilience variables were also found to play a role in the relationship between demographic and outcome variables, as various resilience variables emerged as significant predictors of outcome variables, or as having either direct, moderating, mediating or indirect effects on the relationship between demographic and outcome variables. Research suggesting the health-sustaining and stress-reducing (buffering) roles of resilience constructs, as well resilience constructs as influencing the perceptions of adverse conditions or stressors is therefore supported by these findings. Limitations of the study were also discussed, as well as recommendations for future research put forward.