Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Dinkins


The profile of university presidents has changed very little in the past twenty-five years, with the majority being white males (Kim & Cook, 2013). The presence of the ‘lavender ceiling’ (Friskopp & Silverstein, 1995) in higher education is evidenced in there being less than one percent of university presidents who openly identify as lesbian and gay (L&G) (Rivard, 2014). Colleges and universities continue to be largely heteronormative and struggle to create safe, supportive, and just campuses; mirroring instead the bias and microaggressions that occur outside the insulated walls of academia (Bazarsky, Morrow, & Javier, 2015; Vaccaro, 2012).

This multi-case qualitative study explored the lived experiences of nine out L&G presidents in higher education via two research questions: 1) What are the experiences of out L&G University Presidents within Higher Education? 2) How does being an out practitioner impact pathways to presidency? Using queer theory as a lens, the study builds upon queer research with one central theme; committing to being out in higher education. Committing to being out in Higher Education acted as a catalyst and resulted in four themes related to research question one: 1) supporting frameworks for being out, 2) experiencing heteronormativity as an entrenched concept, 3) navigating expectations of what it means to be a queer leader, and 4) engaging with opportunities to create queer possibilities. Two themes that emerged from the second research question were: 1) cracking the lavender ceiling, and 2) overcoming fear and taking risks. A conditional theme, better to be gay than from student affairs, is also presented.