Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Relationship Between Experiences with Microaggression and the Leadership Practices of Mid-Level Student Affairs Professionals

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Judith Jackson May (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Nicholas Bowman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)


Microaggressions reflect the active manifestation of oppressive worldviews that create, maintain, and perpetuate marginalization (Sue, 2010a). Individuals from marginalized backgrounds “describe their work climate as hostile, invalidating, and insulting because of microaggressions that assail their race, gender, or sexual-orientation identities” (Sue, 2010a, p. 213).

The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between microaggression and the work experience of mid-level student affairs professionals within higher education, specifically those from marginalized populations that pertain to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or disability. Participants completed a web-based survey that measured their interactions with microaggression and its relationship with their leadership practices. Descriptive statistics and multiple regression analyses were performed to analyze the data for this study.

The results of this study confirm what the extant literature, focused on the experience of higher education professionals, has demonstrated. Prior studies have found that administrators within higher education encounter microaggression (Alabi, 2014; Garvey & Drezner, 2013). Within this study, 78.3% of participants reported that they have experienced microaggression within the workplace. These individuals also revealed that the forms of microaggression they experience most frequently included microinvalidations, followed by microinsults. Although the populations were different in studies prior, the extant literature does reflect higher occurrences of microinvalidations and microinsults (Clark et al., 2014; Garvey & Drezner, 2013; Grier-Reed, 2010; Guzman et al., 2010; Harwood et al., 2012; Minikel-Lacocque, 2012; Poolokasingham et al., 2014; Yosso et al., 2009). The findings of this study offer compelling suggestions for the improvement of the student affairs profession.