At the intersection of privilege and marginalization: analyzing the experiences and communication practices of administrators of color in higher education

Institutions of higher education are becoming more diverse in student populations, but minority representation at the administrative level is still lacking. Despite current efforts to diversify leadership, the experiences of administrators of color remain largely unexplored. This thesis seeks to understand the communication practices and lived experiences of people of color in higher education administration. Drawing on co-cultural theory and dominant group theory, and on literature pertaining to diversity efforts in higher education, the benefits of diversity, and the experiences of professionals of color in academia, interviews were conducted with 16 high-level administrators of color to determine how they communicate in their respective positions and what their experiences suggest about current diversity efforts. A qualitative analysis revealed that administrators of color enact communication practices associated with both privileged and marginalized identities. As such, they occupy a dual positionality of privilege and marginalization from which they advocate for students of color and other underrepresented groups. Additionally, findings indicate that the intersection of privilege and marginalization in the position that administrators of color occupy generates a cultural taxation system composed of three factors: personal motivation, cultural group expectation, and institutional pressure. This study brings to light stories that are rarely told and offers a new way of understanding the experiences of people of color in leadership positions. Theoretical implications for intercultural communication and for the concept of cultural taxation are offered, as well as practical implications for addressing issues associated with administrative diversity in higher education.