Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Dustin D. Berna

Second Advisor

Judith McKay

Third Advisor

Mary Hope Schwoebel


career outcomes, colorism, higher education, leadership roles, skin tone bias, women administrators


As the population of the United States becomes more diverse the ethnic makeup of postsecondary institutions expands. Women of color (WOC) represent a growing number within the academic community earning more postsecondary degrees then men and serve as leaders in higher education throughout the county. The increased presence of WOC inacademic positions of power, such as deans, directors, supervisors, tenured faculty, presidents, etc., indicate America’s progression towards inclusivity. However, colorism, a subset of racism favoring and advantaging lighter skin complexions and disadvantaging darker skin tones, exist as a predictor of socioeconomic status, educational attainment, martial capital, occupational, and interpersonal success for WOC. This quantitative study examines colorism experiences of non-White female leaders in the academy. Survey items focused on skin tone discrimination within colleges and universities and sought to answer the following research questions: 1) To what degree has colorism been a factor in the careers of WOC who are in positions of power, 2) To what degree are experiences with colorism associated with social justice perceptions of higher education, 3) What demographics of WOC are most associated with experiences of colorism (age, skin tone, SES) and 4) How have WOC coped with and/or responded to colorism in their workplace experiences? Findings show that colorism negatively influences the career outcomes of WOC, contributes to lowered perceptions of social justice in higher education, and affects their coping mechanisms. Redressing skin tone bias from a human resource and conflict resolution perspective can help build more inclusive organizational teams across diverse workplaces.