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"Get it together, damn it!": Racism in student affairs supervision
Gunzburger, Jessica S

2017, Doctor of Philosophy, Miami University, Educational Leadership.
Supervision occurs throughout student affairs, yet receives little attention from current literature, graduate preparation programs, and student affairs practitioners. The limited literature and practical work around supervision that does exist does not address the way that racism influences supervision relationships between White supervisors and supervisees of color. This study addresses the role of racism in student affairs supervision when White professionals supervise professionals of color.

I conducted a narrative inquiry study grounded in a constructivist paradigm with critical influences from Critical Race Theory and Black Feminist Theory. I interviewed eleven student affairs professionals of color from various racial backgrounds and working in different functional areas across the country. I completed three interviews with each participant, delving into their experiences with White supervisors. Participants shared examples of some White supervisors who were effective and supportive, and many whose consistently racist behavior negatively affected participants.

Participants’ experiences revealed the pervasiveness of racism in supervision from White supervisors. Despite good intentions to the contrary, many White supervisors consistently centered Whiteness in their supervisory practice and perpetuated racism through both interpersonal interactions (e.g., racial microaggressions) and departmental directives (e.g., appointing a person of color as head of a diversity committee because of that individual’s race). These many instances of racism from White supervisors resulted in significant negative effects for participants, including decreased engagement at work, self-doubt, detrimental effects to their wellbeing, and departure from their positions or institutions. Most White supervisors seemed oblivious to their racist actions. To cope with continued racism from White supervisors, supervisees sought support from trusted mentors and colleagues and developed survival mechanisms.

Overall, analyses of participant experiences illuminate the many ways that supervisory practice in student affairs is rooted in White norms and perpetuates racism. These analyses have important implications for student affairs practice, particularly for White supervisors. I explore key areas in which White supervisors need to shift their thinking around both their Whiteness and supervision. I name changes in practice White supervisors can make to engage in more socially just supervision practices, such as understanding the extra burden of racism for supervisees of color, being aware of current events, and believing supervisees of color when they surface racism to their supervisors. I also note implications for supervisees of color for working with White supervisors and student affairs as a field to adequately prepare new supervisors and address racism in supervisory practice.
Elisa Abes (Committee Chair)
Mahauganee Shaw (Committee Member)
Stephen Quaye (Committee Member)
Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis (Committee Member)
222 p.

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Gunzburger, J. (2017). "Get it together, damn it!": Racism in student affairs supervision. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from

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Gunzburger, Jessica. ""Get it together, damn it!": Racism in student affairs supervision." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2017. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 26 Sep 2018.

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Gunzburger, Jessica ""Get it together, damn it!": Racism in student affairs supervision." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Miami University, 2017.


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