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Burdens and benefits of diversity work: emotion management in STEM doctoral students

Kamaria B. Porter (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
Julie R. Posselt (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA)
Kimberly Reyes (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
Kelly E. Slay (University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, Maryland, USA)
Aurora Kamimura (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 19 November 2018

Issue publication date: 19 November 2018




As part of the broader effort to diversify higher education in the USA, many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) doctoral programs are deeply engaged in diversity work – an array of formal activities and practices meant to boost the representation of women and students of color. This paper aims to examine how underrepresented doctoral students in high-diversity STEM PhD programs contribute to diversity work in their programs.


A case study approach was used to understand the nature of diversity work in four STEM doctoral programs that have enrolled and graduated women and/or underrepresented students of color at rates significantly higher than their disciplines, despite being located in states with affirmative action bans. This study analyzes qualitative data from 24 semi-structured interviews and four focus groups with students from across the four departments.


Data reveal that underrepresented students are simultaneously positioned as representatives of progress and uncompensated consultants in their departments’ ongoing equity and diversity efforts. As a result, student contributions to diversity work are experienced as an ongoing process of emotional labor in which institutional ethos and/or feeling rules in the department shape how students manage their internal and external emotions.


Although diversity-related work is widespread and growing within colleges and universities, this study shows how student engagement in diversification efforts can lead to significant emotional burdens that go unnoticed and uncompensated. In highlighting the invisibility of emotional labor and the skew of its distribution toward minoritized groups, this research calls attention to how tacit feeling rules can undermine the ultimate goal of diversity initiatives within graduate departments and programs.



Porter, K.B., Posselt, J.R., Reyes, K., Slay, K.E. and Kamimura, A. (2018), "Burdens and benefits of diversity work: emotion management in STEM doctoral students", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 127-143.



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