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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication Studies


Communication Studies

First Reader/Committee Chair

Conlisk-Gallegos, Liliana


This ethnographic project conducted post-COVID-19 pandemic examines how Women of Color (WOC), particularly Black Women, navigate embedded structures of whiteness utilizing silence^voice strategically to evade hierarchical microaggressions to persevere and resist hegemonic power dynamics. The connotative meaning of silence and the denotative meaning of voice involves gestures, writing, reading, listening, and speaking. The utilization of silence and voice is used strategically to navigate hegemonic discursive practices. To explore techniques WOC utilize to navigate hierarchical power structures, I am guided by the research question, how do Black Women leaders who are charged with DEI work use silence as a strategy to resist discriminatory actions, including hierarchical microaggressions in academia?

Existing research has failed to address the strategies Black Women leaders who are charged with DEI efforts use to circumvent hierarchical microaggressions that help them to survive and thrive in academia. To further reveal how WOC have perfected the strategies needed to navigate microaggressions, expressed through personal stories, WOC share their experiences with embedding educational and social justice work into Historical White Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions policies, procedures, and institutional culture. A thematic analysis of the data gathered examined how WOC, specifically Black Women equity leaders, use silence^voice to navigate microaggressions, stereotyping, and racial tropes that intersect their identities.

I use “Equity Leaders” to refer to individuals charged with developing, creating, and initiating equity-minded efforts in their perspective institutions. The interviews comprised of 14 WOC equity leaders who openly discussed their experiences coping with ageism, sexism, microaggressions, race-based discrimination, idea appropriation, and professional challenges. Although Black Women are singled out as the ‘only' ones to voice inequitable practices, the price for staying committed to social justice work is paradoxical to Black Women's social identity that comes at a cost. The cost of carrying out social justice work is taxing, resulting in being overworked, which can conflict with institutional obligations.

This study explores ways WOC, particularly Black Women in the academy, utilize strategies to thrive and survive, organizing silence and intersectionality theory aid in disclosing the dimensions of silence imposed on WOC equity leaders. Women of Color weigh the cost imposed on them to combat systemic oppression and hegemonic power dynamics as they choose to use silence^voice interchangeably. The imposed silence intersects with their professional identity, leaving them to pick and choose their battles. Utilizing decolonial and qualitative methods, this study recenters WOC voices by uncovering the struggles faced, particularly for Black Women, by critically exploring strategies used to navigate microaggressions experienced which causes them to decide when to use their voice to advocate or to self-silence.