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Protecting the Ivory Tower: An Examination of How Whiteness is Understood and Enacted by Institutional Administrators
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American higher education has long been a space reserved for the privileged, based on any number of identity characteristics including race, gender, and socioeconomic status, to name just a few. Since education remains a compelling means of social mobility, the underrepresentation of groups has devastating consequences within the broader social context. In the past 50 years, many higher education leaders have incorporated calls for expanding diversity and greater equity in their institutions. Beyond this rhetoric, there is a still a demonstrable gap in participation and success for traditionally underrepresented populations across higher education. While there have been many studies that have undertaken to understand the depth of the problem, there has been little examination of the higher education leaders themselves, particularly as it relates to issues of race. If institutions are to truly become equitable spaces, it is critical that those making the decisions that affect race have an understanding of race issues. In order to address this pressing need in the literature, this study sought to understand the ways that whiteness is understood and practiced at a predominantly white, research university in the south. This qualitative study utilized naturalistic inquiry as a method to collect and analyze data from 16 administrators (nine white administrators, and seven administrators of color). Further, critical race theory was utilized as a theoretical lens in which to understand the data and illuminate the lived experiences, ideological perspectives, and philosophy on race, for both administrators of color and white administrators. The research site was a single research university in the South, called State Research University as a pseudonym. Notably, this study found that administrators of color experienced a hostile and marginalizing environment replete with examples of overtly racist interactions as well as microaggressions, creating a situation called white institutional space. The white institutional space described at State Research University (SRU) appears to function as a result of the actions of white administrators who demonstrated a dissonance in understanding the experiences of people of color, as well as unapologetic, willful ignorance regarding the ways that race operates in society. In conclusion, this study has found that many problematic and marginalizing tactics are utilized by white administrators (implicitly and explicitly) to create hostile environments that people of color must navigate in order to live and work in institutional white spaces. The implications and findings from this study should be used for training institutional administrators and other decision makers (such as mid-level managers), as well as white allies who join people of color in pursuit of equitable spaces.
McIntosh, David Flint (2015). Protecting the Ivory Tower: An Examination of How Whiteness is Understood and Enacted by Institutional Administrators. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from