How Did a Racially Equitable Social Program Become and Stay a State Law?: A Critical Historical Case Study of the City University of New York's (CUNY) Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK)
Zita Dixon

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Research Development Award

Award Year



Brandeis University

Primary Discipline

This dissertation will examine an exemplar case in New York State's education policy history, the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) legislation. This currently upheld state legislation passed in July 1966 with an aim to increase college access, retention, and degree attainment to underrepresented students of color by funding holistic, supportive programming for City University of New York (CUNY) students. This study identifies how it was able to create and pass a state policy that funds and cultivates racially equitable higher education access and retention program; and identify strategies used by various stakeholders to sustain and maintain this policy throughout political shifts in state leadership. This historical case study uses Critical Race Theory and a social constructivist grounded theory and situational analysis approach to analyze various archived records and documents, taped oral histories, and in-depth interviews collected from key informants (including former CUNY employees, students, and elected officials) who participated in the construction and maintenance of this state policy during conservative political threats. This study will contribute to the theoretical development of the policymaking process by exploring the critical race and power dynamics of how a racially equitable education policy emerged and sustained itself through political threats. Insights gathered will also contribute to the field on how various stakeholders within higher education institutions (and their intersectional identities) can contribute to the policymaking process when it addresses racial inequities. The results will contribute to existing, yet colorblind, policymaking theories and the role of education staff as policy creators and protectors.
About Zita Dixon
Zita Dixon is a PhD candidate in Social Policy in the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Her previous work experience as a labor union organizer and higher education counselor and advisor informs her research to date. Zita's research focuses on critically examining racial equity in policymaking participation and how those most closely impacted by the social problem garner access to participate in the construction of the macro-level policy solutions to address it. Her dissertation examines a New York State policy that holistically addresses higher education access and degree attainment for underrepresented students of color and how various stakeholders maintain its hold as a policy for over 50 years. Zita's research is supported by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)'s American Dissertation Fellowship and she recently won the Student Paper Competition Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)'s Sociology and Social Welfare division. Her work has appeared in Race & Social Problems and Human Services Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance. She received her B.A. from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and MSW from Columbia University. She hopes to continue researching how those directly impacted by a social issue (and the workers who directly address it) participate in the policymaking process to solve those issues.

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