Trust, Learning and Dialogue: A Portrait of Leadership Practice in Higher Education's Social Justice Centers

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At the University of California, San Diego, three campus centers for social justice exist. The Cross-Cultural Center, Women's Center and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center practice community building under the moniker Campus Community Centers. The empirical literature provides neither insight into collaborations for Center's such as these, nor leadership practices of Director's of these Centers. What is the nature of the relationships between the Directors of the Campus Community Centers of UC San Diego? What do the stories of these relationships illustrate in terms of working together around identity and community? What barriers exist that challenge these relationships? In depth conversations and detailed stories reveal significant intimacies among these leaders. Utilizing ethnographic portraiture, a composite of the leadership practice of the Directors of these Centers emerges. Intersections of privileged and oppressed identities reveal tender moments. The realities of navigating personal identity while having a shared organizational identity expose deep vulnerabilities. The study explores the first memory of the Director's connections, revealing little dichotomy between personal life and professional work. The stories of the earliest collaborative work of the three Centers ground the practice of the positional leaders. Powerful narratives of each Director's identity and community expose how those journeys influences the current relationships. Privilege, oppression and disparate resources provide safety and challenge, and they necessitate buy-in from all three Centers' employees. Three findings emerge from the collective stories: trust, dialogue and learning. The communities and identities of the Directors inform the relationships. Taken together, trust, dialogue and learning cannot be separated, for they appear to rely on each other in order to function. These findings paint a portrait of growth and development over time. Other similarly situated units may begin to see the subspecialty area of campus community centers as a community of practice. This recognition may spark a deep conversation at universities to organize around the practice of campus community centers to be intentionally interdependent. The strategies around trust, learning and dialogue revealed through this study imply a need for a long-term and high level commitment to relationships from the positional leaders involved.


UMI No. 3344539