Research & Best Practices

Research & Best Practices Strategic Goal: Serve as a national model for the creation of knowledge about and best practices for diversity and community engagement through innovative scholarship, teaching, policy development, programs, and services.

On this page, you will find updated information and current activities within the Research goal. For more information about the goal and specific objectives, click here.

By Dr. Stella Smith


The University of Texas at Austin and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) participated in the American Education Research Association (AERA) Conference held in Chicago, Illinois on April 16-20, 2015. Themed Toward Justice Cultural, Language and Heritage in Educational Research and Praxis, the meeting highlighted research that “considered how education praxis, research, theory, and policy can change the world—toward more justice.” Many DDCE faculty fellows, alums, staff and graduate students presented research, attended pre-conference sessions, and served in chair and discussant roles.

Selected conference presentations included:

An Exploratory Study of Women’s Experiences of Gender Influence in Higher Education Leadership – Anna Drake, UT-Austin; Laura Struve, UT-Austin; Jessica M. Khalaf, UT-Austin

Utilizing Intersectionality to Engage Dialogue in Higher Education – Betty Jeanne Taylor, UT-Austin; Claudia García-Louis, UT-Austin

Latino Males Navigating the Community College Environment and Family Obligations – Victor Saenz, UT-Austin; Claudia García-Louis, UT-Austin; Tonia Guida, UT-Austin; Anna Drake, UT-Austin

Bridging the Gap: A Case Study Examining Student Success in a Summer Bridge Program – Charles Lu, UT-Austin; Ashley N. Stone, UT-Austin; Carmen DeLas Mercedez, UT-Austin; Anthony Heaven, UT-Austin

Latina/o Student Success in Mathematics: Examining the Effects of Gender and Academic Engagement on Math Performance – Victor Saenz, UT-Austin; Claudia García-Louis, UT-Austin; Kye Hyoung Lee, UT-Austin; Carmen DeLas Mercedez, UT-Austin; Sarah Rodriguez, UT-Austin

Responding to Hate on Campus: Examining Administrative Leadership of Bias Response Teams – Ryan Miller, UT-Austin; Tonia Guida, UT-Austin; Stella L. Smith, UT-Austin; Sarah Kiersten Ferguson, Southern Methodist University; Elizabeth Medina, UT-Austin

More information about AERA and the 2015 Conference can be found at

logo 2014

In November 2014, UT-Austin and DDCE participated in the 39th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. The conference theme, Weaving Scholarship and Policy Making, provided an opportunity for researchers and policy makers to dialogue about issues in higher education. DDCE faculty fellows, alumni, staff and graduate students presented research at the conference.

Selected conference presentations included:

Understanding the Purposes and Operations of Bias Response Teams

Ryan Miller – UT-Austin

Tonia F. Guida – University of California, Los Angeles

Stella Smith – UT-Austin

Elizabeth Medina – UT-Austin

Sarah Kiersten Ferguson – Southern Methodist University

Las Mujeres in the STEM Pipeline: How Latina College Students who

Persist in STEM Majors Develop and Sustain their Science Identities

Sarah Rodriguez – UT-Austin

The Role of Family in the Lives of Latina Graduate Students

Veronica Pecero – Ohio State University

Carmen De Las Mercedez Finch – UT-Austin

“We are leaders in a movement” – Impact of the Peers for Pride

Program on Student Facilitators

Stella Smith – UT-Austin

Sarah Kiersten Ferguson – Southern Methodist University

Community Service Project with Howard University

and ASHE members

Lori Patton Davis – Indiana University

Judith Marquez Kiyama – University of Denver

Lisa Wolf-Wendel – University of Kansas

Richard Reddick – UT-Austin

Luis Leyva – Rutgers University

Samuel Museus – University of Denver

Scott Thomas – Claremont Graduate University

Intersections of Disability, Gender, Sexuality: Centering the Identities

of LGBTQ Students with Disabilities

Ryan Miller – UT-Austin

Barriers to “Leaning In”: An Exploratory Study of Career

Advancement for Women in Higher Education Administration

Anna Drake – UT-Austin

Jessica Khalaf – UT-Austin

Laura Struve – UT-Austin

A Critical Examination of the Effect of Institutional Policies on

African American Women in Leadership at Select Texas Institutions

Leslie Coward – University of Texas

Stella Smith – UT-Austin

Kimberly Koledoye – Houston Community College

The Complicated Role of Fathers in Latino Male Post-Secondary

Educational Success: A Texas Perspective

Victor Saenz – UT-Austin

Sarah Rodriguez – UT-Austin

Carmen Mercedes – UT-Austin

Daisy Pena – UT-Austin

Humberto Alanis – UT-Austin

More information about ASHE can be found at



By Dr. Stella Smith

On April 29, 2015 Dr. Kiersten Ferguson and Dr. Stella Smith, members of the Gender and Sexuality Center’s Peers for Pride (PfP) research team, participated in the 2015 Peers for Pride Final Performance and shared findings from their research sPfPtudy, determining how participating in the Peers for Pride program impacted the lives of PfP facilitators. The Peers for Pride program weaves together concepts of student identity development, social justice, and leadership while preparing students with peer facilitation skills. In this qualitative case study, the researchers interviewed peer facilitators from the six cohorts of PfP and conducted extensive document review to examine social change leadership development. Different aspects of this research were also presented at the national conferences of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) and the University Council on Educational Administration (UCEA) in November 2014. More information about the Peers for Pride Program can be found at


By Leslie Blair

The Social Justice Institute, based in the DDCE’s Community Engagement Center, recently announced six awards through the 2014 Activist Research Grant Initiative. Awards were made to the following graduate students:

Elissa Underwood, American Studies – Underwood’s project focuses on access to affordable and health foods and on advocating for healthy food options in prisons.

Lakota Pochedley, Curriculum and Instruction – Pochedley will investigate how Oklahoma Native American students collectively construct different understandings of tribal sovereignty and definitions of Native membership and citizenship in the space of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Mentorship Program.

Lorna Hermosura, Educational Administration – Hermosura’s project seeks to capture the voices of incarcerated youth for the purposes of information educational policies and practices that can prevent incarceration of youth from similar backgrounds.

Hallie Boas, Anthropology – Boas will collect ethnographic data on the Navajo (Dineh) Reservation to gain knowledge about the intricacies of daily life and struggle of the Black Mesa community. She is searching for insights about Dineh land-based cosmology and spirituality.

Dori Wall, Curriculum and Instruction – Wall’s study explores the process of a district-wide implementation of dual language in the Austin Independent School District by gathering perspectives from stakeholders at the district, school and community levels.

Blanca Caldas, Curriculum and Instruction – Caldas’ research explores how critical drama-based pedagogical methods in the formation of bilingual teachers can prepare for future bilingual teachers to respond to the need for advocacy inside and outside the classroom. She will examine issues of xenophobia, immigration, racism, classicism and linguicism through the oral narratives of seasoned bilingual teachers.


By Leslie Blair

The Journal of Negro Education (Winter 2014, Vol. 83 Issue 1, p. 61-76.) recently published “A Hole in the Soul of Austin: Black Faculty Community Engagement Experiences in a Creative Class City” by DDCE faculty fellow Dr. Rich Reddick, DDCE post-doctoral fellow Dr. Stella Smith and former DDCE graduate research assistants Dr. Beth Bukoski along with former DDCE Project MALES staff member Dr. Patrick Valdez and Dr. Miguel V. Wasielewski.

The article discusses how tenure and tenure-track Black faculty at The University of Texas at Austin—a predominantly White institution— make meaning of their community engagement living and working in the city of Austin, long considered a creative class city given its demographics and history. The researchers, who surveyed all Black tenured and tenure-track faculty at UT Austin, examined two questions:

  • How do tenured and tenure-track Black faculty at the university make meaning of community engagement experiences in the Austin community?
  • What positive and challenging factors do the faculty perceive as they interact in the community?

The researchers found that if faculty came to UT Austin from another predominately white institution, the transition to Austin was not as difficult as those who came from an historically black college or university or a more diverse institution or city. Some faculty appreciated the characteristics of Austin as a creative class town but realized that a lack of ethnic diversity in Austin made it a “less than welcoming place” for Black faculty. Others noted their professional experiences and experiences raising a family in Austin were generally positive yet found stark reminders of structural racism and segregation. And given Austin’s kid-friendly environment, those who were parents engaged in the Austin community much differently than those who were not parents. Those without families often felt ignored, and in fact, their experiences suggest the need of opportunities that “consider their status as newcomers without the traditional anchors of family and children.” Black faculty who identified as LGBTQ found Austin’s LGBTQ community to exclude those of color.

Overall, the findings detail a lack of social and cultural experiences for Black faculty that affected their quality of life. Those who found a spiritual community or church in Austin or those with family ties to the city expressed greater satisfaction. It was also found Austin’s reputation as a city with a thriving music, arts and night life scene neglects consideration of a lack of entertainment and social interaction options aimed at Black professionals, especially for those in their 30s and older.

The authors conclude, “The case of Austin represents a specific history and experience; other creative class cities must come to terms with their unique histories and present realities—this is the reality of race in America.”


By Ixchel Rosal

This year the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has begun a research project to examine the impact of its Peers for Pride program.  The Gender and Sexuality Center provides opportunities for all members of the UT Austin community to explore, organize, and promote learning around issues of gender and sexuality. The center also facilitates a greater responsiveness to the needs of women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and ally (LGBTQA) communities through education, outreach and advocacy.

The primary goal the GSC’s Peers for Pride (PfP) program is to train peer facilitators to lead workshops about sexual orientation and gender identity across the UT campus. Students in PfP earn academic credit for their participation in the year-long program. During the fall semester they take a course entitled, “Confronting LGBTQ Oppression: Exploring the Issues and Learning the Skills to Communicate Them,” where students learn basic facilitation skills while taking an in-depth look at some issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals. During the spring semester course, “Facilitating Dialogues on LGBTQ Oppression: Peers for Pride in Action,” peer facilitators have the opportunity to fine-tune their facilitation skills and lead workshops across campus.

The research study begun this year explores the narratives of Peers for Pride peer facilitators.  Through the lens of Harro’s Cycle of Socialization, the following research questions will guide the study:

  • How do facilitators conceptualize their participation in Peers for Pride?
  • Were facilitators able to develop a sense of agency and capacity?  In what ways did participation as a facilitator provide students with a greater sense of confidence that they could impact change and be effective leaders?
  • What implications emerge in terms of identity and peer leadership development?

Harro’s (2010) Cycle of Socialization articulates the process by which we are each born with a myriad of social identities (i.e. our social identity profile) related to gender, age, skin color, ethnicity, ability status, sexual orientation, etc, and are then socialized to play certain roles prescribed to those identities by an imbalanced social system of oppression.

This qualitative case study seeks to investigate the impact of participation in the Peers for Pride Program on peer educators by interviewing former Peers for Pride peer facilitators from the past five years.  According to Merriam, qualitative researchers are “interested in understanding the meaning people have constructed, that is, how they make sense of their world and the experiences that they have in the world” (2001, p. 6).

Two primary data collection methods will be used: semi-structured interviews with former PfP facilitators and document review. One-hour semi-structured interviews will be conducted with the participants. The semi-structured interviews were designed specifically for this project and will focus on how the facilitators conceptualized participation in the program, as well as how participation was situated within the context of the institution.  The interview will help establish rapport with the participant, collect base-line data, and address the study’s research questions.

SI research fellow Dr. Kiersten Ferguson and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Stella Smith, are working closely with GSC staff on the design and implementation of the study.  Results from the study are anticipated to be available in fall, 2014.  For more information about the study please contact Ixchel Rosal (Director, GSC) at