Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2008


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program for Education Leaders (IDPEL)


School of Education

Committee Chair

James E. Henderson

Committee Member

James Ryland

Committee Member

Jan Arminio

Committee Member

Steven Ganzell


ablism, bi-sexual, handicap, heteronormality, heterosexism, queer


This study tells the story of thirteen executive leaders in higher education from across the nation who identified themselves as having a concealable difference. These differences included being gay or lesbian, experiencing an auditory or visual disability, or being from a poor socio-economic background.

Grounded in a constructivist epistemology, a phenomenological systematic approach was used to understand and illuminate the nuances of the lived experiences of these individuals. Together the terms ontology, epistemology, and methodology describe the foundation for this study. Ontology is the study of Being; epistemology is how we know what we know; and methodology is the approach to new or acquired understanding. The transcripts of our interactions, plus my field notes and journals became the basis for the hermeneutical analysis of the experience of living with a concealable difference.

Having differences which define them was a theme which emerged from this process. These leaders felt that living with these differences included understanding the limitations imposed upon them by society. They experienced the impacts of oppression by being set apart by their difference. These executives continued to work hard to ensure what they added to the academy was more important than their differences. They moved beyond merely feeling compassion and responded instead to an empathetic call to action. This empathy propelled them to go beyond simply using the buzzwords inclusive, tolerance, and diversity. They were engaged with partners, children, and family members. Each leader had developed a hope that was not expressed without thoughtful consideration of the harsh realities of the world they live in, nor with pessimism which would stand in the way of true progress.

These leaders were comfortable with who they were. They experienced life with their very Being impacted by being cast as different. Each individual had their own unique story. Combined, these stories presented a fuller insight into Being Different.

The findings of this study have application to policy makers who serve in higher education. It is vital that individuals with differences be included in leadership positions because of the broader outlook they provide to academia.