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Utah women discuss the roadblocks they face in pursuing higher education

A brown-skinned woman with long hair wears a backpack and holds a couple of textbooks.
Jacob Lund

The Utah Women & Leadership Project released a new research brief on Nov. 3 discussing findings from in-depth interviews with women enrolled in college or graduate schools in Utah.

The testimonials of these participants revealed common influences on their decision to pursue higher education as a woman – relationships and religious and cultural influences. Often, relationships women have with their family and professors are entwined with whether or not they obtain an advanced degree.

While families can be a great motivation towards education, Dr. Sojung Lim, associate professor of sociology at Utah State University, said education can fall by the wayside if it conflicts with family values. She noted that women often face more pressure to handle family matters while earning a degree than men.

“You don't have to choose one over the other, but sometimes they feel guilty or uneasy or uncomfortable,” Lim said.

Another big roadblock was a sense of alienation women feel when attending school. This can come in the form of gendered expectations confining women to specific roles within their education, as well as underrepresentation for minorities.

Claudia Wright, presidential doctoral research fellow at USU, said this alienation affects both undergraduates and those obtaining advanced degrees.

“They feel like there's a barrier between who they are as people and the environment in which they're embedded,” Wright said.

She added that listening to participants' personal stories gave her a unique perspective on the potential for researchers to communicate these experiences to a broad audience.

“I cried quite a bit with some of the stories because some of their stories were really from the heart,” Wright said. “There was one particular interview in which the participant really opened her heart up, like she really needed to talk about what was going on.”

A long time lover of NPR and radio reporting, Clayre Scott joined UPR in August of 2021 as the producer of the weekly podcast UnDisciplined. She began reporting in 2022 and now enjoys telling stories through sound and getting weekly texts from her family after hearing her on the radio. Along with her work at UPR, Clayre is attending Utah State University to get her degree in Broadcast Journalism, with time on the side to study Political Science and Art History.