NAVIGATING RACISM IN HIGHER EDUCATION: A GROUNDED THEORY STUDY OF BLACK MALE ADMINISTRATORS
Rollins, Domonic A.
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In the United States, racism is alive and well, and the lives of Black men are a complete paradox (Jenkins, 2006). At the same time that the person holding the highest political office in the United States of America is a Black man, Black men are slain in the streets every day. Curiously, in a historic moment more than eight years ago, the United States, a nation founded on prejudice and racial discrimination, elected its first Black man to the presidency. And, in a historic moment less than six months ago, the United States elected the most racist and ethnocentric politician to the presidency in the last half-century. For many people, the election, and subsequent reelection of President Barack Obama signified the end of racism in the United States. Simultaneously, the election of the new president indicates that racism is thriving in the United States. In this Black men are suspended in “dueling realities of history — steady progress and devastating setbacks” (Merida, 2007, p.4). Resultantly, it is commonplace for Black men, regardless of age, socioeconomic class, or location, to wonder whether their life is at risk because they are Black. Simply stated, in an Obama era there was a widely held belief that the United States was post-racial society (Bonilla-Silva & Dietrich, 2011); the subsequent 2016 election indicated this is not that case, and the lives of Black men are in danger (Sanneh, 2015). What’s more is that higher education, an institution founded on inequity, has long harbored institutional racism making it difficult for Black male administrators to achieve equitable outcomes with their White peers. In higher education, there is an extant body of research identifying the barriers that impact the success and progression of underrepresented racial minority students and faculty, including Black people (Baez, 2000; Chesler, Lewis, & Crowfoot, 2005; Christian, 2012; Patitu & Hinton, 2003; Stanley, 2006). Yet, very little is known about the experiences of underrepresented racial minority administrators (Chun & Evans, 2012; McCurtis, Jackson, & O’Callaghan, 2008; Stanley, 2006). Specifically, most research on Black males in the academy focuses on students and faculty, with little research on the experiences of Black male administrators (Jackson, 2003; Patitu & Hinton, 2003; Perna, Gerald, Baum, & Milem, 2006). Using a constructivist grounded theory approach; this dissertation shares and analyzes findings from interview data to unearth the process by which Black male administrators navigate racism. Through this grounded theory investigation, a model for navigating racism for Black male administrators emerged, which illustrates the iterative and contextual nature of navigating racism. The result is that the way one navigates racism in higher education is dependent on major contextual and shaping forces in their life. Further, one learns how to navigate racism early in life, well before one enters higher education. Specific decisions about how to navigate racism also involve an internal and external assessment of the racist incident, current context in which one is steeped, and desired or anticipated outcomes of navigating or managing the incident. Finally, this research, through the creation of a model, moved from the descriptive analysis of what racism is, towards the practical implications of having to navigate racism in higher education. By integrating the identified racist incidents, shaping contexts, and the navigation model together, applications were created for individuals, institutions, and future research. The resulting implications focused primarily on critical self-reflection for individuals, an increase in reflection and audits for institutions, and a new direction for race and racism research to explore the primary learning sites of how to manage racism in one’s life.