The child is the father of the man*: Understanding transformative experiences of white college presidents around racial understanding

Jennifer S Maney, Marquette University


The purpose of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the journey toward racial awareness among White college presidents. Two theoretical frameworks served as the foundation of this research: Whiteness studies (Fine, Weis, Powell, Wong, 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Giroux, 1997; Ignatiev, 1995; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1998; McIntosh, 2001; Omi & Winant, 1994; Roediger, 1994) and Jack Mezirow's transformative learning theory (1991), which is defined as a "comprehensive and complex description of how learners construe, validate and reformulate the meaning of their experience" (Cranton, 1994). By looking at the personal journeys of three White Presidents of two and four-year colleges who have claimed an interest in diversity, inclusion and equity within their institutions, and who have been viewed by peers as having this interest, I posed the following questions: (1) Do my participating White Presidents self-report any events that were influential in their transformation of racial understanding and awareness and if so, what were these events? (2) To what extent have these transformative experiences changed their attitudes and actions related to Whiteness? and (3) To what extent has this understanding manifested itself in their leadership? The results of this study indicated that Mezirow's transformative learning theory may be too simplistic for racial understanding by ignoring the impact of childhood experiences. Childhood experiences appeared to be very powerful and continue to influence a person well into adulthood as they experience racial understanding. In addition, identity markers such as gender, bodyweight, and class can play a significant role in the level of racial awareness and advocacy. Identity markers took the participants out of their defined role as White people and in some cases put them into the role of the 'other' in such a way that lent itself to developing empathy for other marginalized populations. Most current research has investigated the concept of Whiteness as experienced by faculty and student affairs professionals. The present study is unique in that it looks at decision makers at the higher levels of university administration.

Recommended Citation

Maney, Jennifer S, "The child is the father of the man*: Understanding transformative experiences of white college presidents around racial understanding" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306517.