Sustaining change towards racial equity through cycles of inquiry


  • Alicia C. Dowd Penn State University
  • Román Liera University of Southern California



race, equity, educational policy, data, inquiry, postsecondary education, organizational change


Many national, state, and institutional policies and initiatives advocate for change in higher education through structured forms of data use. The case study of “Old Main University” presented in this article shows how local reformers (n=9) drew on data and data use tools provided by a long-term action research project implemented at the university to advance racial equity goals at their university. The case narrative utilizes practice theory, cultural historical activity theory (CHAT), and narrative inquiry to illustrate how administrative leaders and faculty at Old Main University coordinated their efforts in a sustained manner through two cycles of practitioner inquiry that was responsive to policy goals. The findings show that data use is productive to promote racial equity when data and data use protocols are used iteratively and in interaction among practitioners who use them to identify inequities rooted in their own practices. The findings support the conclusion that, to sustain change efforts as long-term (mesogenetic) projects, policy makers and local reformers should plan to iteratively redesign data tools, practices, and policies to institute changes in everyday (microgenetic) work practices. Such purposeful redesign holds potential to re-structure professional interactions, sustain motivation and organizational learning, and acculturate practitioners to equity as a standard of practice. 


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Author Biographies

Alicia C. Dowd, Penn State University

Alicia C. Dowd is a professor of education at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the Pennsylvania State University College of Education. Her scholarship revolves around the study of organizational learning and change towards racial equity in higher education.

Román Liera, University of Southern California

Román Liera is a doctoral candidate in urban education policy at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His research applies critical, organizational, and sociocultural learning theories to investigate the ways professors with training on equity-mindedness advance racial equity in multiple areas of faculty life. 




How to Cite

Dowd, A. C., & Liera, R. (2018). Sustaining change towards racial equity through cycles of inquiry. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 65.