Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Denied Access: The Focus on Medicalized Support Services and "Depressed" Women Students in the Corporate University

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Denied Access: The Focus on Medicalized Support Services and "Depressed" Women Students in the Corporate University

Article excerpt

This institutional ethnography focuses on the processes in which female university students are diagnosed as "depressed" and treated in the corporate university, and on how the biomedical discourse affects the organization of support services for women who are first generation students in their transition from university to careers at two New Brunswick universities,

I. Introduction

This institutional ethnography focuses on how university health and counselling services orient to the mental health needs of first generation women students in two specific New Brunswick universities. This is part of a larger project, The University to Work Transition: What is Going On at University for Young Women In New Brunswick?, on transition to careers for women students who are the first generation to attend university. (1) As universities move along the continuum of privatization and marketization, their institutional support services, such as "Counselling Services" and "Student Health," have a major impact on low income and first generation women students' access to education and careers (Reimer and Mueller, 2006).

Where university restructuring embodies the new commercial outlook in education, a shift occurs in university operation from a professional model to a business model. As such, the focus is increasingly on capitalizing on research as an investment, seeking profit from its ventures and forming partnerships with corporations through equity financing and licensing (Tudiver, 1999, p. 5). Federal funding cuts to core educational funding in the last decade have reduced per capita university funding by 17 percent and operating expenses by 7 percent (Drakich, Grant and Stewart, 2002, pp. 261-299). In direct connection with this, universities in general have experienced the introduction of market ideology and accountability structures and the concomitant hiring freezes, budget cutbacks and tuition increases.

Within such a context, we see a dominant discourse portraying the student as an "autonomous consumer," suggesting that as payee of higher tuitions, the student should be treated as a consumer with the accompanying rights (Brule, 2004). Yet, feminist, anti-racist and critical pedagogies are severely constrained within a curriculum that is becoming more generic, de-politicized and market oriented (Brule, 2004, pp. 259-260). Curriculum constraints are but one feature of the conservatism that becomes more pervasive in a period of economic retrenchment, as an official emphasis on equity and pro-active policies in relation to disadvantaged groups on university campuses recedes (Agocs et al., 2004). Petitpas-Taylor (2007) argues that the "chilly climate" for women is evident in the classroom environment of universities in 2007, citing everything from everyday sexist stereotypes to the neglect of women in the curriculum and from sexual harassment and dismissive attitudes towards family responsibilities to less supervisor interest in research topics at the graduate level. While women have become the numerical majority, at 58 percent of undergraduates (Statistics Canada, 2008), in a more market-driven system women students may find that resources they need to succeed in careers are not as accessible (Stocker & Prentice, 1998).

The impact of market-driven priorities is acutely felt by one of the more vulnerable groups: women students who are among the first generation in their families to attend university. These women cite a lack of supportive infrastructure to inform and support them in their transition from school to career. Although statistics are preliminary for this group at the university level, at McMaster University in Ontario, 30 percent of students are first generation (Pereira, 2008). These students tend to be socially and economically disadvantaged on a number of levels compared to their middle-class counterparts, including familial support, number of hours worked, number of years to completion, and rates of success (Grayson, 1997; Canadian Campus Survey, 2004; Berger et al. …

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