Living in Two Different Worlds: Exploring the Life Stories of Ten Nontraditional African American Reentry Women

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dorothy Ettling


Bess Stewart


Maria de la Luz Romay


Earl M. Lewis


The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative study was to explore the life stories of ten African American women in order to learn the motivation behind the decision to reenter higher education when they were beyond the traditional age of study. The ten women, from varied areas of the United States, spent a weekend telling the stories of the events in their lives leading up to and including their decision to reenter higher education in search of the doctoral degree. When doctoral study began, the women ranged in age from 45 years to 59 years. At the time of the research, however, they were 54 years to 78 years of age. Eight of the women received their doctorates prior to the study, and two were “All But Dissertation” (ABD). Each session was audio and video taped. Sources of data were verbatim transcriptions of the individual presentations, questionnaires from each participant returned prior to their arrival, notes and observations of the researcher, written and oral observations of the participants, and digital photographs of both formal and informal sessions. The data were coded and analyzed for themes. The overarching theme that emerged from the data was “Living in Two Different Worlds.” The women survived by masking their feelings and emotions in both worlds: One Black and the other White. Findings from the research indicate that they were able to succeed by wearing different faces, depending upon the circumstance and the world in which they found themselves. They depended heavily upon their families for emotional and financial support. All of the women were deeply grounded spiritually and they lived out their faith, which was an integral part of their lives. They were highly focused and determined. Integrity and hard work were personal characteristics integral to their success.

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