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Leading with Privilege:

Personal Journeys of White Male Leaders in Higher Education

to Become Advocates for Diversity, Equity and Social Justice

A Dissertation




Craig Johnson




Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, Ph.D., Advisor

May 2017

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campus and in the community. Seven participants identified observation as a primary

means of developing personal understanding of diversity issues:

When I went to the Dean’s office, I had a mentor [who] was lesbian, very willing

to help me see things, willing to be gentle. I might say something and she would

say, ‘Now, let’s think about that’, you know, that kind of approach. She was very

helpful and I worked with her for a number of years . . . I think that she had a lot

to do with just kind of opening my mind. . . . I remember sitting with her at a big

table [with] lots of leaders at the college and an issue came up, and she made a

suggestion. It kind of flew by, then a man made a suggestion, almost identical,

not word for word, but very similar. And [the response] was, ‘That’s a really

good idea’. So I talked to her about it later, and I said, ‘How did that feel?’ And

she said, ‘That happens all the time’. I thought, isn’t that interesting. You know,

I’m glad I noticed it . . . it opened my eyes to that kind of experience. And she

was very well respected and it still was happening to her. She was a force of

nature, and it still was like that [for her] in those quarters.

Learning through observation also included watching other people as they participated in

institutional and system processes:

It became very clear [in executive searches] with respect to both ethnicity and

gender, but particularly with respect to gender, that there was an expectation or a

threshold for women to meet that men didn’t have to meet . . . early in the search

process, and even during the initial interview, when we were interviewing the top

twelve to fifteen candidates and working to narrow it down to the three or four

you were going to bring to campus, it became really clear . . . women had a higher

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Possible follow-up prompts as needed:

 How do you engage in these discussions with other white people? With
non-privileged people and people of color?

 How do you discuss race and privilege with white people who are resistant
to considering these issues?

 How has dialogue or interactions with non-privileged people impacted
your sense of your personal identity and influenced your leadership

practices and behavior?

11. What kind of support system do you have to encourage your diversity and
inclusion efforts or help you persist in the face of challenges?

Possible follow-up prompts as needed:

 Do you have any support resources within your leadership team or campus

 Do you have any support resources within your circle of professional
colleagues beyond the campus? Within the local community?

 Do you have any key mentors for support in your personal life?

 How important are these support resources to your persistence and success
in your work for diversity and inclusion?

12. What do you think has been most critical to the success of your diversity and
inclusion efforts?

Possible follow-up prompts as needed:

 To what degree do you think we can we teach a white male to become an
inclusive leader, versus needing critical life experiences to shape

understanding of race and privilege?

 Do you have any advice for white males who seek to become effective
leaders for diversity and inclusion issues in higher education?

 Can you suggest any other white male presidents who are actively
engaged in diversity and inclusion work to consider for my study?

13. Do you have any other comments to share that will help me understand your
personal journey to become an inclusive white male leader in higher education?

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