Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Christian A. Vaccaro

Second Advisor

J. Beth Mabry

Third Advisor

Alex Heckert


This case study evaluates the organizational relationship between a dominant culture and a microculture, specifically: how a microculture might reflect, refract, or diffuse the dominant culture; as a counterfactual, the dominant culture might respond in like manner to the microculture. This can be a one-time exchange; it can also be matrixed and evolutionary or parallel and dismissive. How this cultural dialectic impacts the shared population is of particular interest.

The relationship between a private, religiously-affiliated college located in the Northeastern United States and its intercollegiate football team formed the backdrop to this study. With a preponderance of racial and socioeconomic at-risk student athletes, this NCAA Division III institution presented an excellent subject. Using Schein’s (2010) model and an organizational ethnographic approach, extensive field observations over a fourteen-week season were combined with semi-structured interviews of administrators, coaches, and student athletes to identify and decipher the cultural relationships on multiple levels.

Theorists (Cooke & Rousseau, 1988; Geertz, 1973: Martin & Siehl, 1983; Schein, 2010) argue that the conditions that create a dominant culture often produce multiple subcultures and microcultures. Various models (Hofstede 1990; Ott, 1989; Rousseau, 1990; Schein, 2010) and interpretations of the symbology (Blumer, 1969) associated with the traditional cultural factors (artifacts, norms, values, and assumptions) have been used to explain this relationship. This particular organization was also impacted by the socioeconomic subgroups, the NCAA, its geographic location, and the landscape of higher education.

The research identified that while the College is focused on surviving the challenges facing higher education, the student athletes are focused on their need to identify as intercollegiate athletes. These two reflect and refract each other as they seek to satisfy their individual core assumptions and espoused values in a shared identity. The student athletes gain from their association with both cultures; however, the number of at-risk groups combine to negatively impact the College’s retention and graduation rates.

This study is applicable to any institution of higher education that wants to study the relationship between itself and its student athletes; however, it is also applicable to any organization with a shared population that spans multiple cultural divisions.