Abstract: Unconscious Race and Gender Biases in Predominately White Institutions: A Participatory-Research Study Investigating the on-Campus Experiences of Black Indigenous Women of Color (BIWOC) (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Unconscious Race and Gender Biases in Predominately White Institutions: A Participatory-Research Study Investigating the on-Campus Experiences of Black Indigenous Women of Color (BIWOC)

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Katie Lauve-Moon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX
Samantha Bates, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas Christian University, TX
Sh'Niqua Alford, LCSW, BSW Director, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX
Background & Purpose: The 21st century brings forth new iterations of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within workplaces, university campuses, and other types of institutions and organizations. Those pushing for structural change have called attention to the persistent inequitable outcomes along lines of race, gender, class, and sexuality in higher education. Today, Black, Indigenous, Women of Color (BIWOC) faculty and students are vastly underrepresented at predominately white institutions (PWIs) and often experience the discriminatory effects of unconscious or conscious biases in their classrooms, departments, and on their teaching evaluations (NCES, 2018; Smith & Johnson-Bailey, 2011; Lazos, 2012). Moreover, BIWOC report negative experiences on predominately white campuses in the forms of microaggressions, stereotypes, and experiences of isolation and invisibility (e.g., Greene et al., 2006). Despite good intentions of actors and organizational efforts to increase DEI within these contexts, some strategies and methods of change can be problematic and reinforce patterns of homogeneity, exclusion, and inequity. This study seeks to better understand the unique experiences of BIWOC students, faculty, and staff at PWIs and to identify ways in which campus DEI initiatives fall short of intended goals and, in some cases, reinforce patterns at the intersection of sexism and racism.

Methods: Critical methodologies reveal underlying and inequitable power structures within workplaces, educational settings, and other types of institutions. In particular, feminist and critical race methodologies offer approaches for critical researchers to investigate the intersection of gender and race inequality at various levels of society. This study draws on critical race and feminist methodologies to investigate biases persisting at the intersection of race and gender at a PWI in the southern United States. Consistent with the tenets of standpoint theory, this research utilizes participatory-based methods to understand the experiences of BIWOC of faculty, students, and staff. Utilizing a snowball sampling method, researchers partner with BIWOC students and faculty to design and facilitate 6-8 focus groups investigating experiences of (un)conscious race and gender biases, implicitly discriminatory campus processes, and the effectiveness of DEI initiatives at a PWI. Researchers conducted thematic analyses to identify experiential patterns of exclusion and discrimination faced by focus group participants.

Results: Preliminary findings reveal that BIWOC students consistently face tokenism in university marketing campaigns, experience DEI efforts as superficial and ineffective, and encounter various forms of race and gender biases on both interactional and organizational levels. Moreover, Black women students regularly experience a sense of invisibility when walking across campus and attending university activities. Finally, Black women students often experience double discrimination (racism and sexism) that occurs in uniquely different ways than White women and Black men on campus.

Implications: This study contributes to the small body of work centralizing the lived experiences of BIWOC at PWIs and raises awareness around the issues that persist at the intersection of race and gender. Additionally, this research seeks to identify areas of growth in relation to institutional DEI strategies and centralize voices of marginalized groups in the development of best practices for transformational institutional change.