Race for the Doctorate: Educational Leadership Ed.D. Students’ Experiences in a Racial Equity-Focused Program

Natalie D. Rasmussen, Joel P Leer
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 19  •  2024  •  pp. 002

This study aimed to compare the experiences of students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) with those of White students in the same Educational Leadership doctoral program that claimed to be unapologetic in its commitment to producing racially conscious leaders.

This study critically assesses the doctoral program’s claims as measured by BIPOC and White doctoral students’ perceptions of their abilities as racial equity leaders and their assessments of their transformational learning.

This qualitative study employed two separate focus group interviews – one for BIPOC doctoral students (n=7) and the other for White doctoral students (n=6). The researchers could comprehend how the participants experienced an Educational Leadership Ed.D. program with curriculum, andragogy, and assessment viewed through the lens of race and how the participants perceived their growth as racial equity leaders.

This study offers several theoretical and practical applications for Educational Leadership doctoral programs that embed racial equity work. For faculty, the study informs their delivery of race-focused courses and programs to optimize their development of racially conscious leaders. For BIPOC students, the study empowers them to advocate for and demand challenging racial equity-focused curriculum and instruction. For White students, the study reinforces the necessity of a race-focused program for professional development.

There was a marked difference between the BIPOC and White students’ responses. White students reported the most transformational growth in their racial awareness, their understanding of structural racism, and their recognition of where equity leadership skills could be utilized. BIPOC students were cognizant of much of this work before entering the program. However, they reported growth in understanding how best to implement effective racial equity leadership while maintaining healthy boundaries and self-care.

Educational leadership doctoral programs with a focus on racial equity work need teaching faculty that espouse and demonstrate anti-racist curriculum, instruction, and assessment without relying on the racialized labor of BIPOC students to “teach” White students about racism.

The researchers in this study used separate focus groups – BIPOC and White. The data revealed that although the same questions were asked to each group, the BIPOC responses contained more vulnerable, personal details and yielded richer meanings. Future researchers should consider employing a more robust set of focus group questions that require more introspection and self-reflection, which might produce more significant insights. We believe they may yield more nuanced responses from all racial groups.

This study revealed that BIPOC and White educational leadership doctoral students have different and varying needs and challenges based on their racialized lived experiences. Educational leadership doctoral programs must provide the tools and opportunities for their students to be conversant and competent to address issues of structural racism.

Future research should use transformative learning theory to guide how BIPOC and White faculty in educational leadership doctoral programs assess their abilities to be anti-racist teachers and leaders.

educational leadership, Ed.D. programs, BIPOC students, White students, racial equity leadership, transformative learning
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