Exploring Multicultural Initiatives in Higher Education: A Phenomenological Study

Exploring Multicultural Initiatives in Higher Education: A Phenomenological Study

Author: 
Tamika Lamb
Program of study: 
Ph.D./HEA
Abstract: 
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore faculty and administrators’ perceptions of multicultural initiatives in higher education. A demographic survey was used to select the study participants, which consisted of 10 faculty members and 10 administrators with at least two to five years of experience working with diverse student populations in Maricopa County, Arizona. Data was obtained through the use of focus group sessions and coding was done by utilizing Liamputtong and Ezzy’s (2005) three column format and NVivo10. The four major themes that emerged were: 1) Leadership support is needed to facilitate diversity policies and programs, 2) Curriculum and programming need to be adapted to engage students and enhance learning beyond the classroom, 3) Incorporating multicultural education created a welcoming environment in which students felt respected and safe to express themselves, and 4) No special instruction needed because incorporating culture does not necessarily enhance learning or the retention of knowledge. Findings indicated that faculty, administrators, and those in key leadership positions are at odds when deciding how best to meet the needs of diverse students. As the diversity of students increases on college campuses, it will be important for academic affairs professionals to be prepared to meet the needs of these diverse student populations by constructing learning environments in which a diversity of perspectives are represented (Bolman & Gallos, 2011; Kuk & Banning, 2010). Study results suggest that important steps institutional leaders can take to achieve this goal are to: (1) carefully draft definitions and policies of what constitutes a multicultural program, (2) ensure that these definitions and policies are clearly communicated, understood, and implemented by all members of the academic community, and (3) provide ongoing education to students and staff about the benefits of multicultural initiatives within the campus and the community at large.
Dedication: 
I dedicate this work to my fiancé, DaVaun Sanders, who stood beside me through this incredible journey and aspiring faculty and administrators searching for ways to enhance learning beyond the classroom. My journey to become a doctoral student began with the goal to create dialogue about the quality of education students are receiving and incorporate more inclusive educational practices into curriculum. Growing up I had the opportunity to experience the learning environment in poor and rich schools. In low-income schools the books were second hand or worst and the teachers were overworked and tired. In comparison, wealthier schools had brand new textbooks, state of the art technology, and teachers who were educated and prepared to teach. Although student’s in both environments received an education, the quality of education received was not the same, which creates an imbalance between students who are prepared to move onto to college and succeed. In the 21st century education is more important than ever. Technology, competition, and global affairs are creating new problems for the next generation to solve. Therefore, students must be guaranteed equal access to quality education. The responsibility of higher education is to prepare students to think critically. To accomplish this goal, curriculum and programming must reflect diverse perspectives, worldviews, and ways of knowing. Likewise, faculty must be the driving force pushing students to research, analyze, and critic their environment. I hope that my research findings will help build a bridge to allow critical conversations about diversity and multicultural initiatives to take place on all levels of academia.
Acknowledgements: 
Every doctoral candidate deserves an amazing team and I am glad to know that I had one of the best and most supportive teams for my doctoral journey! I would first like to thank my dissertation chair, Dr. Marianne Justus, for her insightful feedback and suggestions that helped me take my dissertation from infancy to adulthood! When I look back on my earlier drafts, compared to what has now evolved, I realized how blessed that I was to have a chair who could provide feedback in a meaningful way and bring out the best in my writing. Without her guidance, I would not have been able to advance as quickly as I did. I thank you for your wisdom, dedication, and honesty. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Heath Boice-Pardee and Dr. Nancy Greer-Williams, for their timely feedback and support. I will never forget Dr. Boice-Pardee’s advice in my first year residency about selecting a topic. He said that our dissertation topic would be like a billboard, so select it wisely because it would follow you throughout your academic career. I never forgot those words and they helped me select a topic that I could be proud of! I thank you both for the time, effort, and insight you gave during this journey. I am also eternally grateful to the 20 participants who made this study possible! I would not have been able to complete this study without their willingness to volunteer and provide me with their insight. Thank you all for showing me how complicated the discussion of multicultural education can be in different institutions and sharing the amazing experiences that shaped your philosophical approach. I learned so much from each focus group session and I am glad that each participant felt the same. I wish each of you the best of luck with your academic pursuits and thank you for your willingness to start conversations about diversity and multiculturalism at your respective institutions.