A sociology student’s MA project is exploring how rural women in Newfoundland and Labrador make the choice to study liberal arts in university.
Monique Bourgeois hopes her research will provide insight into a segment of the population not covered in the White Paper on Post-Secondary Education, released by the provincial government in 2005.
“I’m interested in what this education means to women, and the ways in which growing up in rural communities has shaped these meanings, so I’m talking to women to explore how and why rural women come to university to study in the Faculty of Arts,” explained Ms. Bourgeois, who experienced her own mental impediments as a young woman in Stephenville planning her future. “When I was young, deciding what to do after high school was a very confusing process because of conflicting messages and pressures. For me, university seemed like a good option because I didn’t see many other alternative routes for women from rural Newfoundland.”
While she says she was never discouraged from pursuing a particular kind of education, there was not a lot of help or practical guidance available.
“The difficult decision of what to study in university was compounded by the added pressure of having to finance living away from home and tuition costs,” she said. “I want to find out if other women from rural Newfoundland experience similar difficulties, and how these might shape their accounts of decision-making and the meaning they ascribe to their education in the Faculty of Arts.”
Her research, which last year received funding from SSHRC and the School of Graduate Studies, involves interviewing undergraduate females who hail from places outside the province’s major centres. Subjects were easy to find, thanks to the willingness of faculty who let Ms. Bourgeois make a brief presentation to their classes.
“I got far more interest than I expected. I won’t be able to interview everyone, but I will have a good sample.” While her interviews are lead by a discussion guide she created, Ms. Bourgeois said the conversations can range widely depending on what the subject wants to talk about. And while she’d expected each would take about an hour, the few interviews she’s done have taken closer to two hours. “I’ve found that we have so much common experience we just keep talking.”
At this preliminary stage, she is looking for themes relating to affordability of education and perceptions about liberal arts education and about Memorial University as an institution.
“Ultimately, I’m interested in how other people in the same circumstances make sense of this decision.”