White Face, Black Space: My Journey as a Chief Diversity Officer at an HBCU
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Considerable attention has been paid to the matter of diversity in higher education in recent years. Yet, the discourse around this critically important phenomenon has typically failed to include experiences regarding the diversity agenda at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), serving as yet another example of how these historic institutions continue to be underappreciated in mainstream society. It is argued here that HBCUs provide a dynamic context for implementing this work, including serving as fertile territory for non-Blacks to grow in their understanding of racial issues as “temporary minorities.” In addition, while the chief diversity officer (CDO) position has become increasingly popular, little attention has been paid to the possibility that serving in this capacity can shape CDO’s own sense of the racial self. This dissertation incorporates the phenomenological tradition to deliver an autoethnographic account of the author’s own journey as the first and only White CDO at an HBCU institution. I present stories and reflections that explore how my status as a White male profoundly impacted my work as a CDO at an HBCU and the responses to it, and ultimately, the way in which these encounters reciprocally influenced my own sense of the racial self. Through this reflexive account, I endeavor to demonstrate the challenges and possibilities inherent in diversity efforts at HBCUs, the dimensions of “racial being” exploration, and the complex needs and realities of the CDO position. Implications for policy and practice are also discussed.