Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michele S. Moses

Second Advisor

Kris Gutierrez

Third Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Fourth Advisor

Daryl Maeda

Fifth Advisor

Guillermo Solano-Flores


Racial, socioeconomic, and political segregation patterns currently surpass pre-1960s levels in America (Anderson, 2010). Higher education may be the first--and perhaps only--time students interact with diversity of ideas and people (Harper & Hurtado, 2011). My dissertation examined how universities mediated diversity initiatives where students learned about diversity and race while participating in seminars that fostered cross-racial interactions. Informed by a cultural historical approach to learning and development, I examined two case studies of one public and one private university. The following research questions guided my inquiry: (a) How do postsecondary educators (administrators, faculty, and volunteers) theorize issues of diversity and race? (b) How do postsecondary educators organize student learning about issues of diversity and race? (c) What are the affordances and constraints of how postsecondary educators organize student learning? and (d) How do racial attitudes of student participants shift from the beginning to the end of the seminars? Using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory to address these questions, I analyzed three sources of data: audio recordings of interviews with postsecondary educators, video recordings of seminar interactions, and student responses to the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS; Neville, Lilly, Duran, Lee & Browne, 2000). My findings show how different kinds of pedagogical practices created or shut down entry points for students to engage with issues of diversity and race. By "re-purposing" tools from everyday life, postsecondary educators facilitated opportunities for students to make connections between personal experiences and abstract concepts. However, powerful modes of silencing, such as questioning practices and rules to ensure safety sometimes suppressed discussions. Subsequently, how students related to issues of diversity and race within the seminars was promoted or hindered by how postsecondary educators organized learning environments.