Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The purpose of this dissertation project was to understand how institutions of higher education, through both punishments and rewards, ensure that dominant cultural codes are "taught" to students of color in ways that normalize whiteness ideologies. I wanted to understand racism in higher education through the lens of socialization to show the ways in which institutional members (un)intentionally conflate dominant cultural codes with the "correct" or "normal" way to think, act, or speak. Furthermore, I was interested in the ways that students of color take up, defer, resist, adapt, mix, subvert, and/or accommodate the institutional practices that (re)produce racial power within contemporary U.S. higher education. To pursue these goals, I focused on topics of racism, socialization through the white habitus, and civility utilizing critical-qualitative methodologies. I interviewed fourteen participants of various racial backgrounds a total of twenty-eight times to understand how they identified and negotiated the institutional norms of higher education. Specially, I utilized in-depth interviewing methods with narrative analysis and counterstory techniques to generate themes and present stories concerning my topics. My analysis of participants' responses generated insights related to my areas of study. First, I showed how racism manifests in a myriad of ways, including stereotypes and stereotype threats, microaggressions of invisibility, and overt forms of physical/mental violence. These themes indicate that racism still presents a significant threat to the health, well-being, and success of students of color within higher education. Second, I utilized Co-Cultural Theory to analyze participants' descriptions of higher education as a space that is dominated by the white habitus. That is, participants described specific communicative codes that constituted the practices of an idealized White identity within higher education and the ways they assimilated, accommodated, and separated from that identity. Third, I drew upon the notion of civility to understand the ways that its practice can function to perpetuate or subvert racism within higher education. Participants described appeals to covering ground and common courtesy as ways that conversations about race and racism are elided by dominant members in higher education thereby perpetuating whiteness. Additionally, I found that participants utilized purposive silence, niceness, and absurdity as ways to subvert the hegemonic dimensions of civility. Overall, my analysis points to the relationships among cultural, institutional, and individual rules and performances of race and racism. I concluded my dissertation by describing the major findings of the project and offering ways to combat racism in higher education. I offered that this dissertation can further whiteness studies by focusing attention on the cultural norms and practices that constitute the socializing mechanisms of higher education (or other institutions). This type of analysis is important because it does not rely upon essentialized racial identities (e.g., linking whiteness to White bodies); instead, it focuses attention on the institutional rules and norms that constitute yet transcend racial categories. I also drew upon Black Feminist Thought and Critical Communication Pedagogy to map out a dialogic ethic that serves as a foundation for communicating through inclusive civility to provide a guide for coalitional politics for social-justice work. I ended with the hope that such an ethic may provide a necessary step in the work to elicit institutional change and cultural renewal.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.