Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Watt, Sherry K

First Committee Member

Barnhardt, Cassie

Second Committee Member

Colvin, Carolyn

Third Committee Member

Liddell, Debora

Fourth Committee Member

Ogren, Christine


Colleges and universities use language (i.e., talk and text) to represent diversity and inclusion in community engagement. Diversity refers to individual and social or group differences (e.g., race, ethnicity, national origin, social class, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability), while inclusion is the intentional and ongoing engagement with difference. Community engagement involves collaborations between institutions of higher education and their local, regional, national, and global communities. The language used to describe diversity and inclusion in community engagement is socially constructed and situated in complex power relations.

The purpose of the study was to describe how three universities use language to represent diversity and inclusion in community engagement. The primary research question asked: In what ways do colleges and universities use language to represent diversity and inclusion in community engagement? The study employed critical discourse analysis (CDA) using a multiple case study approach to examine language-in-use (i.e., discourse) about the connections between diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. As a theory and method, CDA offered a means to investigate how language constitutes reality, or in other words, is shaped by power relations and social struggles. Data analysis occurred in a three stage recursive process: description of text and its linguistic features, interpretation of messages underpinning patterns in language, and explanation of the relationship between texts and society.

Language for the study stemmed from applications for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s elective Community Engagement Classification; individual interviews with two engagement actors per campus, or faculty and staff with dedicated responsibilities in community engagement efforts; and text from community engagement office web pages. The three participating universities received the 2105 first-time Community Engagement Classification, thus providing relevant text to examine language about diversity and inclusion in community engagement. Collected data included 312 pages of text across three cases and data collection methods.

Study findings emerged from the three stages of analysis (descriptive, interpretative, and explanatory). At the descriptive stage, patterns in language use pointed to linguistic features of text relevant to the connections between diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (e.g., euphemisms to conceal negative action, “diverse” as a descriptor of groups or places, and “the” community as a singular entity). Findings at the interpretative stage focused on representations of diversity and inclusion revealed in patterns of language use. Representations depicted diversity as: a seamless “other,” a commodity, and a proxy. Representations also suggested inclusion as: correction, honoring, and a skillset. Moreover, explanatory level findings indicated four emergent discourse types underpinning the language of diversity and inclusion in community engagement, including managerial, promotional, oppositional, and specialist discourses. The four discourses also reflected ideologies, or taken for granted assumptions, of neoliberalism and White supremacy in higher education.

The study offered implications for community engagement practice and opportunities for more transformational educational environments. The study also suggested future studies and applications of CDA as a reflective and action-oriented tool to interrogate language-in-use towards more just outcomes. Advancing research on the language of diversity and inclusion in community engagement is integral to creating institutions of higher education that better enable all people to thrive and engage meaningfully in public life.


Colleges and Universities, Community Engagement, Critical Discourse Analysis, Diversity, Higher Education, Inclusion


xiii, 191 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 155-177).


Copyright © 2019 Kira Pasquesi