Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


An Examination of Bias Incident Response at Postsecondary Institutions

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Brett Holden (Other)


The purpose of this general inductive study was to understand how senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) have managed the response to bias on college campuses. The literature is clear about the negative effects of bias on targeted populations; however, there is a large gap in the literature when it comes to how bias incidents are managed. The goal of this study was to gain a deeper understanding about the processes SSAOs used to manage bias incidents, as well as what they learned from their experiences.

Participants in this study were selected via purposeful sampling. A senior student affairs officer (SSAO) was defined as having at least one of the following criteria: responsibility for policy formation or vision planning for a division of student affairs, responsibility for resource allocation within a division of student affairs, or a wide scope of functional areas and/or large number of employees whom they supervise. Nine participants were interviewed and represented a variety of institutional types, geographic locations, and social identities.

Six broad themes emerged from the data: (1) bias response; (2) outcomes; (3) response considerations; (4) challenges to bias incident response; (5) preparation for bias incident response; and (6) post-response reflection. Ten implications for SSAOs are presented as a result of the findings. First, SSAOs should develop formal bias reporting systems, as well as formal bias response plans. Second, SSAOs should form a bias response team. Third, SSAOs should consider all of the available options when determining what responses to implement. Fourth, SSAOs have competing considerations and must consider all of these quickly and make the best decision possible. Fifth, SSAOs must understand the organizational environment in which they are operating. Sixth, SSAOs must familiarize themselves with the social media culture. Seventh, graduate preparation programs need to include a specific, required element of the curriculum that focuses on teaching students about bias incident management on college campuses. Eighth, postsecondary institutions and professional associations alike need to offer continuing education about bias incident management. Ninth, SSAOs who manage bias incidents must make it a priority to engage in post-incident reflection. And finally, tenth, professionals need to critically examine the methods for responding to bias, in order to ensure that they are designed in such a way that will address the oppressive structures that exist in institutions of higher education.