ACPA Marylu K. McEwen 2022 Dissertation of the Year Recipient and Finalists

written by: Tricia Shalka & Orkideh Mohajeri

written by: Tricia Shalka & Orkideh Mohajeri

The ACPA Marylu K. McEwen Dissertation of the Year Award program received many strong submissions this year. Collectively, this work is helping to push the field of student affairs forward in significant ways. Below, we highlight the work of our recipient (Dr. Roshaunda Breeden) and two finalists (Dr. Alex Lange & Dr. Dana Van De Walker) by way of sharing abstracts of their dissertation work. We encourage readers to check out their full dissertations and keep an eye out for their future publications. Congratulations to our recipient and finalists on their impressive work!

Dr. Roshaunda Breeden (Award Recipient)

“Miles Away, but in our own Backyard”: A Participatory Action Study Examining Relationships Between Historically White Institutions and Black Communities

This study explored the relationships between historically white institutions (HWIs) and their local Black communities. Using participatory action research (PAR) methodology, grounded in a Critical Race Theoretical (CRT) framework, undergirded by endarkened feminist epistemology, research questions included: (a) How do Black communities experience and make meaning of their local HWI? and (b) How does history intersect between Black communities and the University? Rooted in PAR methodology, this study included two Black undergraduate co-researchers from Athens, Georgia. Together, we used an intergenerational approach for data collection, centering the voices of Black undergraduate students, community leaders, and families from the Athens-Clarke County community. Collectively, Black participants in this study reported strained relationships, intentional erasure of their history, and a legacy of institutional racism from their local HWI, the University of Georgia (UGA). Using participants’ voices, study findings were contextualized through performative counter-storytelling, shared in one stage-play over three vignettes. The findings shed light on how the historical and current contexts of institutions leads to economic and educational injustices in Black communities. While this study took place in Athens, Georgia, study implications can be applied to institutions with similar contexts. HWIs across the United States can improve their relationships with Black communities by naming racial histories and complexities, atoning for what was lost, and making amends through systemic changes for generations of Black families and communities.

Dr. Alex Lange (Finalist)

How Transgender Students Get in, Pay for, and Explore Gender in College

Transgender students deserve educational opportunities, programs, and policies that promote their learning and development in college; they currently encounter campus environments and climates hostile to their lived experiences. To that end, this multi-manuscript dissertation examined how transgender students enter into, pay for, and develop within higher education. All three analyses used data from a longitudinal qualitative study of transgender students’ college experiences. The first manuscript examines the ways trans students navigated anticipatory socialization—the college choice, selection, and orientation process—as they began their college journeys. The second manuscript inspects how transgender students paid for college, including the unique barriers they faced doing so given their social positionings. The final manuscript details the generation of a theory of transgender identity exploration, specifically how participants self-determined their genders and the aspects of their college experiences that promoted or hindered this process. Individually, the three studies further knowledge about anticipatory socialization, college affordability, and identity exploration. Collectively, they chart new possibilities for higher education to better support the thriving of transgender college students.

Dr. Dana Van De Walker (Finalist)

Islamophobia, Immigration Policy, and International Student Mobility in the Trump Era

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016 set forth a wave of immigration policy changes that would shape the coming years of U.S. international student mobility. Executive Order 13769, known as the Trump travel ban, which was enacted within the same week of President Trump’s 2017 inauguration, had immediate consequences for all international students, but particularly those from Muslim-majority countries. The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the changes in international student mobility to U.S. institutions as a function of student country of origin (non-Muslim-majority countries, Muslim-majority countries not included by the travel ban, and countries included in the travel ban) and institutional status (elite or non-elite). Grounded in a conceptual framework comprised of Integrated Threat Theory (Stephan & Stephan, 2000) and Theory of Choice (Hargreaves Heap et al., 1992), this study explored the aforementioned changes using custom data from the IIE Open Doors Report (IIE, 2020) from AY2014-2015 to AY2019-2020. Findings and implications for institutions and policy makers are discussed.