This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Exploring Student Resistance to Topics of Diversity, Social Justice, and Privilege: A Critical Content Analysis of Student Evaluations of Diversity Instructors




Lazenby, Dionne

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


While research has shown the importance of diversity and social justice education (Bowman, 2010; Cabrera, 2014; Kumar, 2018; Valentíin, 2006), instructors of these courses often encounter barriers to effective instruction in the form of student resistance. Many women and instructors of color experience resistance and challenges to their character, authority, and credibility from white students. This is especially prevalent when the course content involves privilege and social inequities (Evans-Winters & Twyman Hoff, 2011; Littleford & Jones, 2017; Martinez, 2014; Nast, 1999; Perry et al., 2009). White privilege, emotionality, and fragility influence these displays of resistance (DiAngelo, 2018; Matias, 2016). Such displays have been chronicled in classroom interactions, student assignment submissions, and student critiques of courses and instructors (Bernstein, 2016; Crosby, 2012; Milner, 2010). In course evaluations, students have asserted that instructors were racist or bitter and made excuses concerning the racialized aspects of our society in an attempt to avoid facts. These students also referred to the courses as liberal (Crosby, 2012; Perry et al., 2009; Williams & Evans-Winters, 2005). It is important to understand these displays of resistance in order to provide effective social justice education and create culturally responsive teacher educators. The purpose of this study was to explore how, if at all, students used course evaluations to display resistance to topics of diversity and social justice. This critical content analysis examined student evaluations of instructors of a diversity course for pre-service teachers. This study was framed through a critical whiteness studies, critical race theory, and critical race feminism perspective. Data was collected from three participants who taught the aforementioned diversity course within the last five years. I served as a participant in this study. The data collected were student responses to end of course evaluations from this time period. I focused on the responses to the open-ended survey prompt. I also included critical narratives from my time as a TA and as an instructor of this course. Findings showed that pre-service teachers experienced complex reactions to learning about diversity and social justice. There was evidence of growth with some students, while others exhibited a commitment to maintaining white supremacist ideologies. Instructors were critiqued harshly based on students’ reactions to the course content. Instructors were described as liberal, too political, or as outright racist against white people. Students also used different language to express the same ideas depending on the race and gender of the instructor.