Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education

First Advisor

Ryan Evely Gildersleeve, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Judy Marquez Kiyama, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Michele Tyson, Ed.D.


Rankism, Hierarchical microagressions, Workplace culture, Higher education staff


Missing from the discussions of inequitable treatment of employees in higher education are the experiences of staff members. In work interactions, staff are frequently treated differently (often as inferiors), depending on their level of education and their role in the hierarchy on the non-academic side of an institution (Anonymous, 2006; Young, Anderson & Stewart, 2015). This difference in treatment has been termed, “rankism” in the broad sense or “hierarchical microaggressions” for smaller incidents and is especially troublesome as higher education is presumed to create upward mobility and lead towards a more equitable society (Young et al., 2015).

The research questions for this critical inquiry study were: “What structures of power surround and shape employees’ experiences with rankism and the meaning they make of those experiences? What narratives, both explicit and implicit, emerged about rankism? What changes can an institution make to create a climate of respecting all staff roles?” This research involved conducting semi-structured interviews of eighteen individuals who were currently working as staff members in higher education.

Key findings included themes of: staff’s role in the hierarchy; culture enacted from the top down; money equals worth; staff feeling undervalued; accepted divisions in higher education; self-questioning; staff roles being frequently misunderstood; and how people are treated matters. Suggestions include naming rankism, creating processes and training sessions by expanding Diversity Offices, and examining the role of leadership.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

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