CHADRON – Although college students in parts of the world as far apart as western Nebraska and Mozambique, a nation of almost 30 million people on the southeast coast of Africa, are different in many ways, they seem to share at least one characteristic, according to a research project undertaken by Chadron State College student Dinema Mate (Dee-nay-mah Mat-tay) last summer.
“No matter where they are, students are stressed out,” said Mate, an international student from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, who administered a behavioral health survey to 200 students at a university in Maputo during her summer break. “Students have mental health issues, but they don’t ask for help.”
Mate came to CSC after earning a degree from a university in Mozambique, with the goal of completing the credits she needs to enter graduate school in communication studies.
“I looked for a college in my budget that had a good communications department,” she said. “I found Chadron on a college finder app.”
As a student research assistant at Chadron State, Mate has been working with data from the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA), a survey of students’ behavioral health CSC has participated in for more than 10 years. Intrigued by the patterns revealed by the data collected at CSC and interested in broadening her research experience, Mate came up with the idea of conducting a similar study of students in her homeland.
“I was very interested in what that would look like in Mozambique,” she said.
Mate initially sought permission to use the ACHA-NCHA survey for her project, but was rebuffed because of copyright issues. With assistance from Communication Professor Dr. Kathleen Kirsch, Mate was allowed to use the University of Minnesota’s Boynton College Student Health Survey as the basis for her project instead.
The survey measures key areas of student health behaviors, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, financial health, nutrition and physical activity, sexual health, mental health, and health care utilization.
The Boynton survey is in English and designed for American students so Mate had to have it translated into Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique, and adapt some of the questions to fit the local culture.
Obtaining permission to conduct a survey from top officials at University Eduardo Mondiane, the largest university in Mozambique, wasn’t difficult, said Mate, but she also had to get permission from faculty in each department to speak to students.
Provided with a small space at the university, Mate spent the summer talking to students while administering the survey.
“It was really interesting and the students were really curious about what I was doing,” she said.
After returning to Chadron for the fall 2019 semester, Mate began coding and analyzing students’ responses to the anonymized surveys. Although the sample is small, the data collected is rich enough for several research papers, she said.
Among other things, the survey indicates that students in Maputo show poor utilization of available health services, low alcohol and drug consumption, as well as high levels of food insecurity, adverse childhood experiences, and sexual abuse.
The amount of childhood sexual abuse students’ reported was unexpected and disturbing, said Mate. But, she found female students’ accounts of unreported sexual assault on campus believable, because of societal views that may make women believe they are to blame for, and somehow tainted by, the crime of rape.
“I did not find it surprising that they would not report a crime of that nature,” she said.
Mate also wasn’t surprised by the amount of food insecurity her study revealed. “Mozambique is known as one of the poorest countries of the world and there is chronic food insecurity,” she said. “Even though they reported food insecurity, they did not see that as a reason of stress.”
Overall, students’ in Mozambique don’t seem to recognize the causes of the stress they feel, or its effects on their studies, according to Mate.
“They do not admit that the stress causes poor academic performance,” she said. “They do acknowledge there is stress, but they take it as a part of life.”
Mate will present a research paper based on her findings at the Western States Communication Conference in Denver Saturday and at a psychology conference in Denver in March. She believes it is the first behavioral study ever conducted of students in Mozambique, and hopes the work will help her gain entrance to a graduate school in the U.S.
The ultimate goal of Mate’s educational aspirations is a doctorate in health communications, with a focus on HIV research and behavior.
“In South Saharan Africa, HIV is very dangerous,” she said. “HIV campaigning has been done for 40 years, but infection rates are increasing. There is a problem. It’s behavioral. I would like to do the research.”