Using Critical Race Theory to Examine How Predominantly White Land-Grant Universities Utilize Chief Diversity Officers
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Racial tension in the United States has moved to the forefront in social discourse with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and elections of far-right wing politicians who provide support and empathy for White supremacist groups. In higher education, colleges and universities often serve as microcosms of the broader society’s racial climate. Experts have revealed that 56% of U.S. university presidents believed that inclusion and diversity had grown in importance between 2015-2017. Additionally, 47% of presidents at 4-year institutions stated that students had organized on their campus amid concerns about racial diversity. In attempts to combat the divisiveness present in American culture, colleges and universities have begun appointing Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) administrative positions to lead their inclusion and diversity missions to better support minoritized and marginalized communities. Experts estimate that nearly 80% of CDO positions were created in the last 20 years. Despite efforts to develop CDOs, higher education institutions sometimes struggle to foster inclusive and diverse environments. Recently, a small body of literature has been developed to better understand the CDO role in higher education. Predominantly White Land-Grant Universities (PWLGUs) have also seen an influx of issues related to diversity and inclusion over the years. The purpose of the current study was to uncover how CDOs see their role and responsibilities in the context of Predominantly White Land-Grant Universities. This study used Critical Race Theory (CRT) framework to examine how CDOs navigate their identities, the presence of racism, and the social climate of their university and the broader United States. This study was guided by five research questions, including one topical question which served to provide demographic information of the CDOs. The other four research questions covered barriers and successes of CDOs, how CDOs navigated their own identity while in the role of CDO, and how they observed the presence of racism at PWLGUs. Two rounds of interviews were conducted with seven CDOs at PWLGUs. Topic and pattern coding were used to analyze data via NVivo qualitative data analysis software. There were four findings for this study. First, racism has had a constant presence on, and at times has been supported by, land-grant universities further complicating the jobs of CDOs. Second, CDOs of color often connected elements of their identity to the responsibilities of the CDO position. Third, CDOs described ways in which inclusion and diversity were part of the purpose of land-grant universities and ways in which race factored into academic achievements of the institution, but then become afterthoughts in other elements of campus life. Finally, PWLGUs often invoke liberal processes and decision-making that further limits the capabilities of the CDO to foster inclusive and diverse campuses. Future study recommendations include comparing and contrasting CDOs of Color and White CDOs, CDOs at Minority-Serving Institutions with CDOs at Non-Minority Serving Institutions, and perception of satisfaction by people of color with the job of the CDO at their institution.