Date of Award

Spring 1-15-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Michelle Vital

Second Advisor

Amy Gooden

Third Advisor

Joao Rosa; and Jamie Washington


Professional standards of practice for Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) urge them to enhance institutional functions while leveraging education to build institutional capacity, but CDOs experience varying outcomes in their work. The current literature is limited with respect to how CDOs facilitate diversity learning and development experiences for professional staff in higher education. Adult learning theory argues for the implementation of intentional practices intended to drive developmental learning for adults: contextualizing the educational experience for learners, designing and delivering learning experiences that center the learner, and using assessment to provide relevant learning experiences that meet learner needs. However, it is not known through research how CDOs integrate adult learning principles into diversity education practices for professional staff.

This qualitative study explored how CDOs facilitated developmental learning for professional staff as a part of institutional capacity building efforts. Eight CDOs from the northeast United States (US) were interviewed for this study. This study had three main research questions: 1) How is diversity and the value of diversity work communicated with the professional staff units? 2) What are the diversity-based developmental approaches of CDOs when working with professional staff units? and 3) How are CDOs assessing their diversity-based developmental activities with professional staff units? Adult learning theory (Hansman, 2001; Hill, 2020; Mezirow, 1978), Williams’ (2013) Strategic Diversity Leadership Compass (SDLC) model, and Flash’s (2015) Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs Organization (MCSAO) model served as the study’s conceptual frameworks.

Themes within the findings provide an understanding of key factors for how CDOs 1) communicate with professional staff, 2) implement learning activities, and 3) administer assessment practices. The study’s implications center on how CDOs approach learning and development, how institutional leaders support their efforts, and how contextual variables influence their work. Recommendations for practice include enhancing professional training and career preparation for CDOs, enhancing resource and implementation planning, and increasing access to assessment tools and practices. Recommendations for the profession include professionalizing the CDO career track with attention to foundational knowledge and skills. Future research is needed for development of evidence-based learning models and assessment practices for CDO-led professional staff development in higher education.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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