Academic Affairs and Student Affairs Partnerships Promoting Diversity Initiatives on Campus: A Grounded Theory

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Higher education research suggests student affairs and academic affairs partner to address challenges on campus, such as building inclusive environments for diverse students and staff, but evidence about how partnerships form is lacking in the literature. The purpose of this constructivist grounded theory was to understand how the process of forming academic affairs and student affairs partnerships about diversity initiatives developed with educators involved in a national Project launched by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in the 1990s. The American Commitments Project was designed to encourage educators to center tenets related to diversity in the curriculum and co-curriculum. Research questions included: (a) what can be learned from educators, from both student affairs and academic affairs, about how to formulate partnerships; (b) how do educators involved in these partnerships own perceptions of their multiple identities influence their work implementing diversity initiatives; and (c) how, if at all, has involvement in American Commitments currently shaped the way(s) educators create partnerships?

 The sample included 18 diverse educators originally involved in the Project on four campuses. Data sources included in depth interviews with participants, campus visits, and institutional archived materials from the Project. After following data analysis procedures consistent with constructivist grounded theory methods, the theory, a Cycle of Making Continuous Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion, emerged. 

 The core category, "making commitments," is the root of the cycle and how commitments are made moves the cycle from sequence to sequence. Issues of exclusion brewing on each campus due to racism and other "isms" initiated the cycle. The subsequent four key categories reflected the considerations and actions educators made leading to partnerships for the purpose of implementing diversity initiatives. Three pathways to partnership characterized the type of partnerships: complementary, coordinated, and pervasive. The pathway employed lead to campus specific outcomes related to diversity and inclusion. The nature of the cycle is iterative meaning that educators must repeat the sequences of the cycle to address current issues of exclusion on the campus. The findings offer implications for campus educators who desire to form partnerships for the purpose of diversity initiatives and for future research.