Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Higher Education


Leadership and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Amy Wells Dolan

Second Advisor

Phillis George

Third Advisor

Debby Chessin


The purpose of this mixed methods constructivist case study was to examine how college students process issues of race and privilege when participating in service-learning in a predominantly minority, underserved region, and if that experience impacts their intercultural competence. The participants were University of Mississippi students (N=20) conducting service in the Mississippi Delta. The qualitative research included pre-service focus groups and post-service in-depth interviews, and syllabi and class written reflections were analyzed. The quantitative research included pre- and post-tests using the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale (CoBRAS) that assessed participants’ awareness of and attitudes about racial inequities and privilege before and after the service-learning experience.

The resulting numeric and narrative information were analyzed from a constructivist perspective, informed by Critical Race Theory, Color-blind Ideology, Intercultural Competence models, and Perry’s Theory of Intellectual and Ethical Development. Four primary themes emerged from the qualitative data. The first theme, Motivations, Expectations, and Experience in the Mississippi Delta, examined why students participated in a service-learning class and what they expected from the experience. The second theme, Processing Notions of Race and Privilege through Service-learning, examined how students processed issues of race and privilege, before, during, and after the service experience. The third theme, Color-Blindness as Distance that Protects, described students’ use of color-blind ideology to process issues of race and privilege. The final theme, Service-learning as a Disruptor of the White Paradigm, examined some students’ paradigm shift, where they began to see beyond their own perspective.

During the quantitative analysis, a one-tailed paired samples t test revealed that students’ pre-service CoBRAS scores (m=78.22, s=18.48) decreased on the post-service survey (m=71.33, s=17.09), t(8)=2.264, p≤ .05. While the comparative quantitative data collected through the CoBRAS was minimal (N=10), the results did support an overall increased awareness of racial privilege, institutional discrimination, and blatant racial issues after participation in service-learning.

Through the findings, the researcher established the notion of layers of understanding regarding race and privilege – cultural, emotional, intellectual, and social – that begin to deconstruct how students process issues of race and privilege and move toward intercultural competence. Recommendations for practice were presented.



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