Experiences of Women of Color University Chief Diversity Officers

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Contemporary models of operationalizing diversity on college campuses focus on the integration of diversity goals with the overall educational mission in ways that maximize the benefits of diversity for all. A growing number of institutions have created chief diversity officer (CDO) positions to procedurally and symbolically centralize diversity capabilities. The study of CDO positions is a relatively new focus in diversity and higher education literature, with research to date addressing commonalities and distinctions in organizational structures, portfolios, and strategies. This qualitative study of 5 women of color drew on critical race theory (CRT) and critical race feminism (CRF) to build on existing research. It examined, through semistructured interviews and document analysis, the ways that women of color CDOs experienced their roles and the impact of race and gender on their experiences. Four themes emerged: the ways that the CDOs came into and approached their work connected with how they navigated educational institutions as marginalized “others,” identity- and role-related isolation affected the CDOs, navigating microaggressions and stereotypes weighed on the CDOs, and the CDOs balanced competing expectations related to identity and role. These results add to literature about CDO roles and CRF by presenting the realities and limitations of incremental change for women of color and by highlighting the importance of the outsider perspective that women of color bring to CDO positions. Institutions must recognize the particular complexities faced by women of color CDOs and appropriately support these leaders in order to create more inclusive institutions.

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