'Inhabiting the Habitus': Identity, Belonging, and Becoming in the Narratives of Mature Women Returners at the University of Washington Tacoma

Lundberg, Margaret. 'Inhabiting the Habitus': Identity, Belonging, and Becoming in the Narratives of Mature Women Returners at the University of Washington Tacoma. 2022. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation explores the stories of lived experience of mature women returners within the habitus of a single institution of higher education: The University of Washington Tacoma (UWT). This urban-serving university in Washington State was founded more than 30 years ago as an upper division branch campus designed to serve a place and time-bound, working adult population in need of a local institution to complete baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Women age 35 and over represent a growing segment of this population at UWT, as well as other institutions of higher education across the United States over the last several decades, yet little research has considered their storied experiences as mature returners within the habitus of the university. Viewing this research as a move toward social justice and equitable opportunity, I gathered data from oral histories and campus archives, as well as through interviews and other forms of narrative from eight mature women returners from a variety of backgrounds. Focusing on themes of belonging and becoming in their storied experiences, I sought to make visible both supports and obstacles to their successes as returning students. Employing an amalgamation of narrative inquiry and autoethnography as methodological tools of analysis and interpretation, I included my own experiences as a mature woman returner alongside those of my study participants. In this way, I (re)storied our jointly constructed experience into a new narrative representing a student population that is often overlooked within campus policies and practices. Incorporating an intrinsic case study of UWT that included an extensive analysis of policies, practices, documents, artifacts, oral histories, and interviews with current staff, faculty, and administrators, and relating this data to the stories of my focal participants, I examined the habitus of UWT from the inside. In this way, I was able to gain an understanding of how mature women returners constructed meaning and identity as UWT students through their experiences of belonging and becoming, even as I considered ways the university might better support them.

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