Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Jane Bleasdale

Second Advisor

David Donahue

Third Advisor

Elaine Ikeda

Fourth Advisor

Belinda Hernandez Arriaga


Most higher education institutions have mission statements articulating a commitment to serve the public good, and venerate the broader historical project of higher education as a force that improves the lives of individuals and communities. However, the public purpose of higher education is perpetually embattled by intersecting forces of neoliberalism, positivism, and settler colonialism that emphasize priorities like generating revenue, chasing prestige, developing real estate, and connecting students with high paying careers. As our society continues to grapple with pervasive social and environmental injustices, it is imperative that we clarify and strengthen higher education’s civic role in shaping a more just and sustainable world. One manifestation of higher education’s public purpose is community engagement, an umbrella term for ways in which colleges and universities participate in mutually beneficial partnerships and activities with communities to leverage resources for the public good and provide contextualized learning experiences for students. Community engagement practices have the power to transform our institutions and communities, or serve as performative gestures that undermine true accountability to community. This qualitative grounded theory study elucidates how community engagement professionals (CEPs) employ critical feminist praxis to play an integral role in re-imagining and re-shaping the public purpose of higher education to be more authentic and impactful. Through purposive sampling, and in alignment with principles of critical feminist methodology and participatory action research, seven CEPs were selected to participate in individual interviews and co-visioning conversations with their community partners. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts and observations illuminated a meta-theme of critical feminism as an aspirational praxis, six deductive thematic findings aligned with the elements of adrienne maree brown’s (2017) Emergent Strategy framework, and four additional themes of mentorship, intersectional power analysis, disrupting the status quo, and reverence for community wisdom. Findings served as the foundation for a new conceptual framework, the Ecosystem of Critical Feminist Praxis for Community Engagement Professionals. The framework has implications for CEP professional development programming, CEP practice, and future research and scholarship in the community engagement field.