Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Zachary Gabriel Green, Ph.D.; Fred J. Galloway, Ed.D.; Frank R. Kemerer, Ph.D.


Linda Vista, Mindfulness, Poverty, Stress, University of San Diego


Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, are consistently found to help participants reduce stress. An important exception may be in the case of poverty-related stress. This study focuses on Cooperative Leadership Academy (CLA) members who participated in a pilot program where community leaders audited college courses free of charge at a local private university. These CLA members, who live on annual family incomes below the poverty line, are from a community center in the heart of an impoverished immigrant neighborhood that borders the university. As a means of offering ongoing support for their campus immersion, CLA members were trained and participated in weekly mindfulness-based groups to debrief their university experience for the duration of the pilot.

Post-test quantitative measures as well as qualitative findings from a focus group and targeted interviews suggest that general stress increased and internal locus of control decreased for these participants by the end of the pilot. These counterintuitive findings may be partially explained by the nature of mindfulness practices. Deeper analysis of interviews indicates that participants used mindfulness to cope with the novel situation of being in an affluent college environment. Yet, themes from interviews also reveal that the contrast between the campus and their day-to-day lived experience was stressful. CLA members reported feeling out of place, as if they did not belong. Auditing the classes and being on campus exacerbated their uncertainty about family income, immigration status, and personal safety. The study also made evident how gaps in their education relative to the college students’ contributed to feeling a lack of control over their community environment.

This study has implication for how those who live in poverty can be better integrated into more affluent settings and prepared for college. While each of these community leaders appreciated the learning from being on campus, they were also left with more stress about how poverty-related issues influence their life opportunities. Questions for future study include whether mindfulness practices help reduce this kind of poverty-related stress in the long term or whether it simply allows the mind to be full with contrast.

Document Type

Dissertation: USD Users Only


Leadership Studies