Stephanie Cork
Monday, April 29, 9:00 am - 11:00 am
MIAEH Conference Room (SPH 2234)

Title: The Physical Culture of Diversity Work: A Case Study of Embodied Inclusion and Exclusion within the Contemporary American University. 


In light of recent incidents of white nationalism and racial violence on college campuses, the efficacy of diversity and inclusion work within this context has garnered increased attention (Brooks, Harrison, Norris, & Norwood, 2013; Vertovec, 2012). What has received less attention, however, is the embodied experiences of university employees, specifically “diversity workers,” who are tasked by their institution to combat these issues. Previous research has shown that experiences of exclusion and discrimination can negatively impact work, educational, and health outcomes (Krieger, 2014; Choy, 2002; Groot & van den Brink, 2006). This study explores how these impacts are experienced by diversity workers, many of whom inhabit intersectionally marginalized identities (Risam, 2018). In examining the physicality of the diversity worker, this project merges scholarship from the field of public health and the sociology of work to investigate occupational health and wellness through the lens of critical theory (Wolkowitz, 2006). It builds on a long tradition of studying the working body in the field of kinesiology through the lens of occupational health (Tipton, 2014; Chaffin, 1987), and in doing so also fills a gap in the area of Physical Cultural Studies given that bodies at work (outside the sporting context) have received little to no attention in this subfield.

The aims of this study are to explore the social, political, and economic context of the diversity worker in post-secondary education, and how this impacts health, wellness, and job performance. This study uses a critical qualitative approach drawing from theories of embodiment, radical contextualism, and intersectionality. Data collection entailed a survey (n = 48) and one-on-one semi-structured interviews with diversity workers (n = 8) in higher education. Using thematic analysis and the method of articulation, the data was coded and synthesized to construct the three empirical chapters.

In the first of these chapters, four major articulations are explored through radical contextualism, including: historically white spaces in the era of Trump, the rise of neoliberalism and the neoliberal university, the rise of diversity work, and hidden labor. In the second empirical chapter, the concept of embodiment is mobilized to examine how institutional and interpersonal stressors impact the physicality of diversity workers, detailing strategies used to navigate demands of their workplace. Finally, the experience of diversity work at the institutional level is examined, with a focus on diversity worker’s insights on restructuring physical cultures of isolation and fostering more accountable leadership practices.

Overall, by centering the embodied experiences of diversity workers within the context of the contemporary American university, this study contributes to existing scholarship in public health, sociology, kinesiology and diversity theory in higher education (Ahmed, 2012; Berrey, 2015; Risam, 2018; Wolkowitz, 2006). Study findings point to how we might better support diversity work and workers through a more supportive and healthy workplace environment.


Dr. Shannon Jette (Chair)

Dr. Dave L. Andrews

Dr. Jennifer Roberts 

Dr. Paul Jaeger 

Dr. Beth Douthirt-Cohen

Dr. Warren Kelley


Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press: London, UK.

Berrey, E. (2015). The Enigma of Diversity: The language of race and the Limits of Racial Justice. Chicago University Press: Chicago, IL.

Brooks, D. D., Harrison, L., Norris, M., & Norwood, D. (2013). Why we should care about diversity in kinesiology. Kinesiology Review, 2, 145–155

Chaffin, D.B. (1987). “Occupational biomechanics – a basis for workplace design to prevent musculoskeletal injuries.” Ergonomics 30 (2):  321-9. 

Choy, S.P. (2002). Access & Persistence Findings from 10 Years of Longitudinal Research on Students. INFORMED PRACTICE: Syntheses of Higher Education Research for Campus Leaders. American Council on Education. 

Groot, W, Brink, HM. (2006) What does education do to our health? In Measuring the effects of education on health and civic engagement: Proceedings of the Copenhagen symposium. Amsterdam: OECD.

Krieger N. (2014). Discrimination and health inequities. International Journal of Health Services, 44, 643-710.

Risam, R. (2018). “Diversity work and digital carework in higher education” First Monday, 23(3).

Tipton, C.M. (2014). History of Exercise Physiology. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.

Vertovec, S. (2012). “‘Diversity’ and the Social Imaginary.” European Journal of Sociology/Archives Européennes de Sociologie, 53 (3): 287–312.

Wolkowitz, C. (2006). Bodies at Work. London, UK: Sage. 

Event Type: 
Student Defenses
Polly Schurer
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