Stephanie Cork
May 10, 2019

Congratulations to Stephanie Cork (Advisor: Dr. Jette) who has successfully defended her dissertation.  Congrats, Dr. Cork!

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

Committee: Dr. Shannon Jette (Chair), Dr. Dave L. Andrews, Dr. Jennifer Roberts, Dr. Paul Jaeger , Dr. Beth Douthirt-Cohen, and Dr. Warren Kelley


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.