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The Campus Conscience: Perspectives of Underrepresented Chief Diversity Officers at Predominantly White Institutions

Kristina F Moyet, Johnson & Wales University


Chief diversity officers (CDOs) are leaders in higher education and are called upon to play a transformational role in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Williams and Wade-Golden (2013) position CDOs as change agents, strategic partners, and invested advisors on our college campuses (Aguilar, 2020; O’Neil Green, 2013). Although the role of the CDO will differ at each institution based on type, mission, and goals, studies show that when institutions fail to retain diverse professionals, their departure negatively impacts campus culture (Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Milem et al., 2005; Turner et al., 2008; Williams & Wade-Golden, 2013).Melaku and Winkler (2022) suggest that DEI work should be integrated across the institution rather than assigned as the sole responsibility of a single individual. Compared with other senior-level administrators in higher education, CDOs are under increased scrutiny as the point person for all diversity issues on campus (Williams & Wade-Golden, 2013). This qualitative descriptive study explored the perspectives of underrepresented CDOs as they described their institutional role and purpose at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). The following research question guided this study:RQ: What are the perspectives of underrepresented CDOs at PWIs regarding their role, scope, and purpose?Four data sources were used in this study: (1) purposefully selected experts (N=2), (2) purposefully selected current CDOs who identified as a member of an underrepresented group at a PWI for at least two or more years (N=7), (3) follow-up reflective questionnaires with participants (N=4), and (4) document analysis using extant evidence from participants’ institutional websites (N=23).Four themes emerged: (1) CDOs are here to disrupt the status quo as educators and translators of DEI, (2) CDOs are meta-functional experts, not field workers, (3) CDOs perform the invisible work, (4) CDOs professionalize their roles, and (5) CDOs are the campus conscience. Participants shared that the misalignment of individual beliefs by people in positions of influence and decision-making was seen as a barrier to advancing DEI goals and, ultimately, a factor in retaining CDOs at PWIs. Recommendations may inform campus stakeholders about supporting CDOs more effectively.

Subject Area

Higher education|Educational leadership|Education Policy|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Moyet, Kristina F, "The Campus Conscience: Perspectives of Underrepresented Chief Diversity Officers at Predominantly White Institutions" (2023). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30638691.