Jessica Buttacavoli-Smith Dissertation Final Defense

The College of Education, Health and

Human Sciences

Announces the Final Examination of

Jessica Nicole Buttacavoli-Smith

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

April 24, 2015 at 10:00 am

103 Ball Hall, University of Memphis

Memphis, TN


Biographical Sketch

Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, University of Washington

Master of Arts, Community Counseling, Gonzaga University

Advisory Committee

Elin Ovrebo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research, Committee Chair

Suzanne H. Lease, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research, Committee co-chair

Nancy Nishimura, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research

Chloe Lancaster, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research

Major Field of Study

Counseling Psychology

Period of Preparation: 2011-2015

Comprehensive Examination Passed: August, 2013

The Psychological Distress Experienced in Women Seeking Educational Upward Mobility: The Role of Backlash, Self-Esteem, and Race


Women earn roughly 58% of all conferred higher educational degrees in the United States and this number is projected to continue to grow (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). It is commonly known that going to college provides a number of benefits, especially to women as education is one of women’s primary means of upward social mobility and higher earning power (Benjamin, 2005; Hill, 2003; Hout, 1998; Simmons, 2009). However, relatively few studies have explored the backside of educational upward mobility. As women who are seeking a higher degree often experience pushback from family, friends, support persons, and the educational systems themselves, the current study investigated how these women’s perceived backlash, self-esteem, and race predicted psychological distress. It was expected that perceived backlash would predict psychological distress and that this relationship would be moderated by women’s self-esteem and race. The current study examined survey responses from 207 women participants who were either currently seeking a higher educational degree or had their degree conferred in the last five years. A hierarchical multiple regression showed that perceived backlash significantly predicted psychological distress. Neither self-esteem nor race was found to moderate the relationship between perceived backlash and psychological distress, although self-esteem was significantly and positively related to psychological distress. This study has implications for how mental health professionals and educators may assist women in their pursuit of higher education in the future.

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