Message from the Editors – Summer 2022

Happy Graduation Season, Developments Readers.

We hope that this issue of the publication finds you each doing well with many things to celebrate despite an academic year full of challenges. As students graduate and move on to new opportunities, as many of us move from one role to something new, now is a great time for reflection not only to acknowledge the past, but to plan for the future.

The articles in this issue provide pieces that reflect on the unexpected moments in the past year as well as celebrating achievements of our colleagues. There are case studies and new ways of thinking about assessment and the ACPA/NASPA competencies.

As you move into and through the summer, please consider submitting for an upcoming issue of Developments. As you have read over the past year, we actively seek manuscripts from practitioners and are incredibly excited to share personal essays and reflections. Faculty, please encourage your students at the masters and doctoral level to consider submitting for publication. We work closely with authors to help them prepare their work for this outlet.

Thanks for considering wisdom, humor, insights, reflections, and strategies you might share with ACPA members in the future. We look forward to sharing your work.

Take care and have a good summer.

Michelle Boettcher & Reyes Luna
Developments Editorial Team

Executive Director Message – Summer 2022

The Both/And of Our Political Landscape: The Global and the Local

Most people are familiar with the phrase “think globally, act locally,” yet keeping track of everything going on in the world and in our own lives is an enormous challenge. We have more access to information than ever before and we are fatigued by the devastating and demoralizing nature of the past several years – at home, at work, and in society. Our minds and bodies are not equipped to juggle these sharp edges at all times. We are on information, sensory, and emotional overload. If you are like me, you have done exceptionally well just to show up each day with any sense of hope or optimism that things in our world and in our work in higher education can and will get better.

At night, I turn on the television or check out my news feed to relax and unwind from those realities. That escape, however, is short-lived when political advertisements begin to bombard the commercial and advertising spaces. I am quickly reminded that we are in midterm, primary election battles across the United States. Some of you may not know, but during the pandemic I moved to a U.S. state which historically leans Republican, but regularly has glimpses of turning purple as a toss-up electorate. What I’m experiencing in those ads coming across my various screens is vicious, divisive, and reminiscent of the past two presidential elections – that past is not yet behind us. When I think of “midterm elections,” my mind instantly goes to the balance of power in the U.S. Congress – both the Senate and House of Representatives – and not necessarily local politics like school boards, county executives, and state legislatures. For me, thinking globally has come easily because of how dramatic the national political landscape has been in this country.

Distracted by political theater on the national stage in the U.S., I (maybe we?) lost focus on the importance of being equally, if not more, aware of the power and potential of local politics. Just think about what liberties have come under attack in the last few months that affect local communities: The banning of critical theories and epistemologies in school curricula in Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas (among others), the passing of anti-gay and anti-trans legislation, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida, and efforts to control reproductive rights and abortion. Additionally, election experts predict the predominant issues of the 2024 election cycle will be dominated by discourse around immigration and the cultural divide in the U.S..

All of these issues have one thing in common: They are assaults on identity. Increasingly, awareness of and active engagement with local elections and politics must be at the forefront of our consciousness. There are many values-centered issues, largely shaped by our identities, at stake in the next several years, and it is our city, county, and state leaders who will shape the cultural and moral environments in which we live. I believe we may have been too distracted by the actions, inactions, and divisiveness at the federal level to have the capacity to be actively engaged locally. Many local communities and states are now feeling the horrible impacts of not participating in local and state elections.

Politics is both global and local, and our containers must be wide enough to stay aware of and advocate for the issues, identities, and lives we care most about in our own communities. If we are not engaged locally, our school textbooks will continue to only tell and reflect certain (white, Euro-centric) stories and human rights may be eviscerated. Although I am not advocating for any specific political perspective or ideology, it is my observation that there is no time like the present for us to be more engaged with what is happening in our local and state governance groups and legislatures. We can and must find the capacity to be broadly informed and active in global issues, but not at the detriment of participating with vigor in our local communities. It’s a both/and responsibility, and not an either/or dichotomy.

Chris Moody, Ed.D.
ACPA Executive Director

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.

Leveraging Funding and Support to Foster Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Graduate Education, Johnson, Bohan, Clement, Williams

written by: Alex Johnson, Dr. Chara Haeussler Bohan, Dr. Kristina Mickel Clement, Benjamin M. Williams

Graduate students represent the future of any profession, especially in higher education where an advanced degree is required for many entry-level positions. As institutions of higher education seek to recruit a qualified and diverse workforce for the future, they must contend with the challenges that prohibit a diverse body of students from successfully completing graduate degree programs. Significant attention has focused on attrition rates among graduate students and the overall challenges faced (Nesheim et al, 2006; Gardner, 2008; Dowd, 2008; Gardner & Holley, 2001; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000). However, there is limited research on the role that graduate assistantships and other support structures play in attracting and retaining graduate students, especially historically underrepresented students.

The global pandemic and racial reckoning experienced from 2020 forward have exacerbated the challenges that higher education already faced due to ever-increasing costs and financial losses as well as demands from students for more inclusive and equitable learning environments (Marinoni et al, 2020; Burki, 2020; Toquero, 2020; Sobo et al, 2020). In addition to the pandemic negatively affecting the opportunity to work and earn money (Marinoni et al, 2020), graduate students continue to experience insufficient financial compensation and a lack of benefits as compensation for their labor (Cadenas et al, 2022; Flaherty, 2018; Sainato, 2022).

Purpose and Positionalities

The purpose of this research-informed thought paper is to challenge student affairs students, professionals, and faculty like ourselves to think creatively about how to create engaging and supportive environments where diverse graduate students can thrive.

One co-author is currently a doctoral student engaging in educational policy studies and the social foundations of education while conducting various research projects on DEI, institutional leadership, and popular culture. She has worked as a student with various university departments and populations such as admissions, ombuds, student conduct, students with disabilities, and minority affinity groups. She also holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration and has experienced life as a student/employee at a PWI and a minority serving institution (MSI). She identifies as an African American first-generation college student who is early in her career.

One of the co-authors is a faculty member at the urban MSI located in the southeastern U.S. As a professor and program coordinator, she has a direct interest in making certain that the diverse graduate student population achieves success. She is an upper middle-class, middle-aged white woman who hails from a privileged educational background. Her educational views are shaped by this positionality as well as her 16 years working with diverse graduate students at the MSI.

Another co-author is a student affairs administrator at an urban MSI located in the southeastern United States. She has experience in residence life, fraternity and sorority life, student organizations, and leadership development programs. With over twenty years of experience in higher education, she recognizes the benefit of having a diverse student population engaged in the campus community. She is a first-generation college graduate from a working-class background and recognizes how this experience shapes her work with students and decision to be an advocate for students.

Our final co-author is a doctoral student, fundraiser, and a former administrator at an urban MSI located in the southeastern U.S. As a fundraiser and former administrator, he is invested in creating adequate funding and opportunities to contribute to a diverse university community. He is a middle-class, white man, gay man. His lived experiences and experience shape his views and approach. We enter this work from various sectors and backgrounds that ground our motivation to find answers, challenge others, and relay useful information to our superiors, colleagues, and mentees.

We have organized our manuscript to first provide a review of the relevant literature for context. We then offer a brief summary of our own research about why students succeed or struggle in graduate programs informed by surveys and two-part interviews. We conclude by providing insights into the contemporary challenges, potential solutions, and provocative questions for additional consideration when addressing graduate student retention in pursuit of recruiting and developing a diverse student affairs workforce.

Insights from the Literature

Research that seeks to examine the diversity of graduate students must include consideration of issues of attrition through an equity-minded lens. Grant and Ladson-Billings’ (1997) research on educational equity provides a lens of equity as part of their framework. We employ this framework to examine the current challenges in graduate education. The authors asserted that “the pursuit of equity in education is a dynamic process that recognizes contextual realities…and barriers to the achievement of a truly just distribution of power and opportunity” (Grant & Ladson-Billings, 1997, p. 103). In seeking to understand the challenges of recruiting and retaining diverse graduate students, we focused on the realities that students face. The insights from the following relevant literature informed our work and shaped the questions we pose to the profession in this article.

Graduate Student Attrition

Researchers have asserted that student attrition and persistence are the most studied areas of graduate student education (Nesheim et al., 2006). Given that doctoral student attrition rates have regularly measured over 50% across all disciplines, attrition should be a serious concern for higher education institutions (Bair & Haworth, 2004; Gardner, 2008; Rigler et al, 2017). However, faculty and students give different reasons for graduate student attrition.

Faculty members most often attributed students’ departures to students’ lack of “ability, drive, focus, motivation, or initiative” (Gardner, 2008, p. 104). However, Lovitts and Nelson (2000) asserted that students are abandoning institutions due to issues of programmatic support rather than academic fit. Students also attributed departure to personal problems, departmental issues, or wrong fit for the program or institution (Gardner, 2008; Rigler et al, 2017). Departmental issues include poor advising and faculty attrition issues, financial limitations, and other departmental policies (Gardner, 2008; Rigler et al, 2017).

Additionally, financial issues frequently are a concern for graduate students. Financial stress is the primary reason that graduate students seek counseling services, as concerns about their ability to fund graduate school contributes to emotional distress (Short et al., 2019). While there is limited research on the influence of financial stress on graduate student relationships, existing studies have indicated that financial stress is a contributing factor to interpersonal and marital conflict (Short et al., 2019). Graduate students’ understanding of finances and debt not only influences their retention and persistence in graduate programs but is also a determining factor into whether they chose to pursue advanced degrees. One study of doctoral students found that debt may be a motivator for some students to continue in their graduate programs because of the hope of increased employment prospects after completion (Mendoza et al., 2014).

Impact on Diversity

However, for some groups, an aversion to debt may discourage enrollment in doctoral programs. Dowd’s (2008) research indicated a higher debt aversion among minority students, which influences diversity in graduate programs. Given that first-generation college students, particularly women and students of color, report more debt upon undergraduate degree completion (Gardner & Holley, 2011; Hoffer et al., 2002), these students may be less inclined to pursue graduate studies. A number of scholars have found that attrition may influence graduate student diversity (Dowd, 2008; Gardner & Holley, 2001; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000). In addition, the difficulty in finding out the true cost of higher education and the bureaucratic hurdles involved in completing aid forms erect additional barriers in diversifying college campuses (Levine, 2022).

The Role of Graduate Programs in Diversifying Student Affairs

Graduate programs can be a dedicated pipeline for diversifying the workforce in higher education. The benefits to diversifying faculty and administrative leadership in higher education include: developing a sense of fairness and equity in the hiring process, increasing cultural competency, serving diverse students’ needs, and preparing all students for working in increasingly diverse national and global communities (Bush-Sampson, 2007). In addition to the need for university leadership to reflect the community and its “societal realities”, a diverse professoriate offers the benefits of “intellectual competitiveness, an organizational culture that fosters diverse faculty pedagogical practices, and advancing cultural scholarship perspectives” (Portugal, 2006, n.p.). Diverse environments also promote a “sense of belonging”, “culture of acceptance”, and “a sense of loyalty to the organization” (Wolfe & Dilworth, 2015, p. 671).

Participation in assistantship opportunities significantly increased retention and graduation rates for minority students (Ampaw, 2011; Martin, 2014). While assistantship opportunities are especially important for students who indicate a financial need, many students indicated that assistantships were not sufficient to cover their expenses and they were forced to seek additional employment outside of the university (Gardner & Holley, 2011). The discrepancy among institutions in the ability to provide appropriate financial aid and assistantships to needy students also hinders diversification goals; particularly at private universities that are tuition dependent as well as non-flagship public institutions that face restrictions on tuition rates and lack robust endowments (Levine, 2022)

Graduate Students of Color

Many studies demonstrated the inequitable opportunities available to graduate students regarding funding and assistantship possibilities. Further studies have illustrated how belonging to a minoritized identity affected the experience and performance of graduate students. Harris and Lindner (2016) and Hubain et al. (2018) found that students faced unjust stereotypes from peers due to intersecting identities of students of color and stereotypes led peers to doubt the students’ ability to perform in their assistantship. Additional challenges such as discomfort due to isolation (Rigler et al, 2017), racial battle fatigue, and being “the only one” in their assistantships were found to negatively impact the opportunities available to students for community engagement and learning (Harris & Lindner 2018). The challenges students faced due to their identities impeded their professional and identity development (Harris & Lindner, 2016; Hubain et al., 2018) as well as their sense of belonging and contributed to feelings of imposter phenomenon (Gardner & Holley, 2011).

The challenges for historically underrepresented students in graduate education are significant and it is imperative that higher education embrace equitable and socially just solutions to ensure the successful retention, persistence, and graduation of these students. The literature demonstrates the critical challenge and need for professionals to discuss graduate student funding and support at the start of the graduate school enrollment process. In times of economic uncertainty, it is critical that students have sufficient information to make the best decision regarding their graduate education. The decisions that students make now will influence the future diversity of higher education and professionals today can guide and support these decisions.

First-Generation Graduate Students

First-generation college students tend to come from low-income families and tend to hold minoritized racial identities (Ishitani, 2016; Stephens et al., 2012; Terenzini et al., 1996). While many first-generation students could benefit from financial assistance for graduate studies, research indicates that graduate assistantship opportunities and benefits are often unknown to first-generation students (Gardner, 2013). Hoffer et al. (2002) reported that non-first-generation students were more likely to be employed in assistantships than first-generation students, despite the increased financial need of first-generation students.

Research to Inform this Work

In our study, we explored the following questions: 1) How can a higher education program promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through graduate assistantships? 2) How do finances while enrolled in a doctoral program influence student diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)? and 3) How does faculty support influence student DEI in doctoral degree programs? While significant attention has focused on attrition rates among graduate students, there is limited research on the role that graduate assistantships play in attracting and retaining graduate students including historically underrepresented students. In this research study, we examine how graduate assistantships provide access to graduate education and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Using a two-series interview model and a survey instrument, we approach this topic to understand and explore the impact of assistantships on graduate students.

Theoretical Framework

As noted earlier, we employed Grant and Ladson-Billings’ (1997) definition of educational equity which emphasizes justice and respect for individuals and groups and promotes the idea that all persons are equal despite living in an unequal, stratified society. In the context of education, pursuit of equity, “is a dynamic process that recognizes contextual realities (e.g., institutionalized racism and sexism) and barriers to the achievement of a truly just distribution of power and opportunity, and works constantly to name, address, and dismantle systems of oppression which keep inequality in place” (p. 103). We also utilized Kezar and Posselt’s (2019) ideas of justice and social justice which emphasize the resistance to systemic oppression, democracy, and equity building. In our research, we sought to determine if graduate assistantships could dismantle barriers that block diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

We used qualitative research methods to gather data from participants within the population we were seeking to understand. Subsequently, we gathered rich, descriptive data from graduate students themselves, and together we constructed an interpretation of participants’ experiences (Merriam, 2009; Silverman, 2010; Yin, 2008). In order to conduct this study, we utilized survey and interview data to gain insight into the experiences of the graduate students related to graduate assistantship opportunities (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).

Our study was rooted in a phenomenological epistemology as the social realities of graduate students are relative to interpretation. We sought to understand a social phenomenon (the experiences of graduate students engaging in a higher education doctoral degree program ) by gathering data from the context in which it already existed. Bogdan and Biklen (2007) stated that phenomenological research is an “attempt to understand the meaning of events and interactions to ordinary people in particular situations” (p. 25).

Furthermore, phenomenology offers the opportunity to study obvious things that have become so “normal” that they might not even be noticed (Vagle, 2018, p.10). The phenomenological framework is appropriate as we examined graduate students completing a doctoral degree program (ordinary people) and their experiences with graduate assistantships (a common phenomenon) (Busey & Russell, 2016).


We recruited participants via a listserv that served doctoral students in the program where we participated as faculty (1), alumna (1), and graduate students (2). We asked that recipients extend the invitation to fellow graduate students, thus utilizing the snowball sampling (Simkus, 2022). We also distributed the call for participants to students who were accepted into the program but who had declined the offer of admission at our institution and accepted a competing offer. This technique extended our participant group to include graduate students at one other institution in the region. One university identifies as urban while the other identifies as a land-grant institution. Participants in the study thus included graduate students enrolled in doctoral degree programs in southeastern institutions of higher education within the last four years. The racial, ethnic, and gender demographics that our participants self-identified as included seven African Americans, four whites, nine women, one man, two non-binary people. Three of our participants self-reported as the first in their family to attend undergraduate school and six participants were the first to attend graduate school. Their ages ranged from 24-46 years old. Thus, the participant group was fairly diverse compared to nationwide data of race and ethnicity of U.S. graduate students (American Council on Education, 2020).

Participants completed a survey questionnaire and participated in two 30-minute interviews for a total of 75 minutes. Participants interviews were recorded via an online platform (WebEx) due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We analyzed incoming and currently enrolled students who both participated and did not participate in graduate assistantships. Twelve students, at varying points in graduate degree programs (i.e., first year and Ph.D. students admitted to candidacy), participated in the three-part study. Participation in the study was entirely voluntary. A goal of the larger study was to track retention and graduation rates, but in this particular study, we asked survey questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as graduate assistantships. We sought to determine if the opportunity to interview and obtain a graduate assistantship fostered a climate of equity and justice.


In our study of graduate students, we found that access to funding through assistantships, as well as academic and personal support, were key factors in students’ decisions to attend graduate school and persist in their programs. Participants in our study identified five themes related to support structures that influenced their retention and graduation. These themes included: financial support, advising, peer support networks, writing support, and a comprehensive student handbook.

Financial Support

Financial assistance through graduate assistantships provides a unique opportunity to address the financial inequality in society and within the educational system. By coupling intentional support for graduate students with financial assistance in the form of graduate assistantships, we found such practices had positive impacts on the experience of students from diverse backgrounds and unique circumstances. As faculty and staff consider opportunities to diversify their applicant pools, graduate assistantships should be evaluated for their potential to attract students who might otherwise choose to join the workforce rather than pursue advanced degrees.

In our study, we found that financial assistance was most often the primary concern for students in determining their graduate program over such issues as program reputation, fields of study, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Students had varying expectations about financial assistance from their graduate programs. While some students expected to obtain loans, others hoped to receive a financial package from the institution and avoid taking on debt to complete their degree. The offer of a graduate assistantship was the determining factor for many students in deciding to pursue a degree at their chosen institution. Noel, a first-year doctoral student, was explicit about how funding influenced her decision, stating, “I wasn’t going somewhere that wasn’t going to give me money. I had no intention of paying for grad school.” Melissa, also a first-year doctoral student, shared, “I got that assistantship, which is the only reason I accepted…the program.” Several students indicated that without the offer of a graduate assistantship they would not have attended graduate school.

As graduate programs seek to increase the diversity of their students, financial aid through assistantships and fellowships must be considered. While students recognized the financial benefits of a graduate assistantship including tuition waivers and stipends, they also raised concerns that the assistantships did not meet all their financial needs and additional employment opportunities, or loans were often necessary to sustain basic living expenses. Elisabeth, a fourth-year doctoral student, shared a story illustrating the financial struggle she faced compared with a graduate student in another department.

A woman that was in my network analysis class is in the school of psychology. She came into the restaurant where I work, and so her and I were chatting and she goes, “How do you do this? How do you work at a restaurant and go to school?” and I’m like, “Well, you know, I have to plan it because my assistantship only pays X dollars,” and…she didn’t tell me how much she gets paid for hers, but she was like, “wow, that’s all you get?”

Kristen, a doctoral candidate, echoed Elisabeth’s concerns about graduate assistant pay, stating,

There’s not a lot of funding, especially in education for, you know, graduate assistantships, or teaching assistantships…There are folks in STEM who I work with at my institution who made quite a bit of money as a graduate student, and they’re able to navigate housing and food and, you know, rent and all those types of things, but in education, we don’t have that same amount of money that is coming to us.

The lack of adequate funding for graduate assistantships in education was a concern for these students.

While graduate assistantships primarily provide a financial benefit, students shared other benefits they gained from their assistantships. Students employed in academic units valued the opportunity to engage in research and teaching with faculty. They appreciated the opportunities to contribute to manuscripts, receive feedback on their research interests, and participate in professional conferences. The experiences working in an academic assistantship helped to develop their sense of identity as a professional in the field. Susan, a second-year doctoral student, valued her relationship with her assistantship supervisor, stating,

It is a partnership because we’re helping each other…I’m helping her and doing lit reviews and creating a presentation and doing things like that. But she’s also helping me and working on manuscripts with me, and…introducing me to people and allowing me to have opportunities.

Students employed in administrative units valued the opportunity to put their education into practice. They appreciated interacting with professionals from various departments and having the opportunity to test out various roles within the university. The experiences working in administrative roles further clarified for students their professional identity and broadened their networks of support. While the benefits noted here are less tangible than a paycheck, students found them to be important to their overall success. As programs seek to attract diverse students, conversations about financial support, its equitable distribution, and identity-conscious practices must be at the forefront of discussions.

While financial assistance was of utmost importance to students, they also noted other support structures that contributed to their retention and persistence. Advising, peer support networks, writing support, and a comprehensive student handbook were all mentioned as positively contributing to the retention of students. Faculty and staff seeking to build robust support for graduate students should consider the benefits of these support structures, especially if the ability to provide additional funding is limited.


Students repeatedly emphasized the importance of a strong relationship with their faculty advisor; however, many were unclear about how they should go about establishing such a relationship. John, a doctoral candidate, articulated the frustration that some students felt in establishing an advising relationship, stating, “I felt really on an island, um, and part of that, I think is my fault, but part of it is also not understanding…exactly what that should look like…that [advising] relationship.” Melissa, a first-year doctoral student, expressed surprise regarding her relationship with her advisor.

I was surprised to find out that my advisor is pretty hands off. Like she’s wonderful and is amazing at getting back to me when I email her. Um, but I, because I’m young and I didn’t really know what I was doing going into this. I kind of figure she’d be like, okay, let me explain this to give you some parameters and then I’m going to push you out, to do your own thing.

Faculty advisors should consider spending time discussing expectations for the advising relationship with students. For first-generation students, there was an expectation that the faculty advisor would provide guidance on degree requirements and help them navigate comprehensive exams, the proposal process, and dissertation. While the students had a sense of their expectations, they rarely communicated them openly to their advisor, which often led to frustration when unexpressed needs were not met. If advisors take the lead in setting expectations, they can ensure that they meet the needs of graduate students or help those students find the appropriate resources. In addition to academic advising, students also hoped their advisors would provide feedback on their writing, share professional development opportunities, and take an interest in the students’ research.

Graduate students’ descriptions of their advisors revealed vast differences between students with hands-on advisors compared to those whose advisors expected them to already know the academic processes or ascertain those details on their own. For several subjects of our study, this form of disengaged advising created setbacks and complications in their academic progress including delayed graduation. John, a doctoral candidate, believed the lack of communication with his advisor “really delayed some of the work” and made it more difficult for him to navigate through his dissertation proposal. Kristen, a doctoral candidate, shared that she had been “focused on one kind of topic and theme, then was told, nope, can’t do that for comps,” so she was forced to change her topic after spending three years of coursework focused in one area. Kristen believed the change of topic set her back in her plans to complete her degree in four to five years. John and Kristen’s experiences highlight the direct role that advisors play in retention, persistence, and graduation of doctoral students.

Peer Support Networks

In addition to proper advising, students noted a supportive peer network was essential to their success. Participants valued the efforts of graduate programs to connect students to each other, whether in the form of orientation sessions or cohort meetings. Susan’s advisor organized regular meetings with her advisees, which allowed Susan to connect with “students who are in different parts of the program as well as students who already graduated..[to] meet and talk about issues and just offer support.” Susan found the opportunity to gain support from other students helped her to manage because “sometimes the program is very isolating, extremely isolating.” Students were also eager to participate in student associations with their peers where they could work together on professional development opportunities or obtain funding for conference travel. Developing relationships with students outside of the classroom helped ease classroom interactions and provided opportunities for study groups and peer review. Students who were further along in their graduate studies relied heavily on peer relationships to help them through the independent phase of their program. Kristen shared that her peers not only in the program, but her campus colleagues as well, helped her by talking through issues she was facing. Kristen was able to ask, “Here’s what I’m navigating you know, help me support X, Y, and Z.” Based on students’ feedback, faculty and staff should actively encourage the development of peer networks to support graduate students.

Writing Support

Many graduate students expected to have writing support in their programs. Students who did not feel like they had strong writing backgrounds actively sought out the campus writing center for support. Noel, who described herself as more analytical, sought out the writing center because “the transition to writing was something that [she] was super nervous about.” Other students joined writing circles where they met regularly with a group of students to write together and share feedback. Elisabeth found “a support structure in a writing group from [another] department,” where she met twice a week for three hours to write in a supportive environment. Still, other students sought out their advisors for feedback on their writing. Students recognized the importance of writing not only in their academic programs but also as a tool for career advancement. Given the emphasis on writing for publication, particularly for tenure-track faculty, a focus on developing writing skills and writing support structures is a necessity for graduate programs.

Comprehensive Student Handbook

Finally, many graduate students expressed a desire for a student handbook that would clearly outline the degree requirements and expectations. Due to the varying levels of support among faculty advisors, students acknowledged the need for a student handbook that provided a checklist of degree requirements and an explanation of the various processes involved in pursuing a doctorate degree. For many first-generation students, requirements such as residency, prospectus, and comprehensive exams were unclear, and they wanted help in understanding these elements of the program. John, a doctoral candidate, articulated this need best, stating:

Part of it [struggle with advisor] was also being told, I mean, there’s a manual for it somewhere. Like, you got to just go find that manual. That was the other thing that I got in my master’s program that I didn’t have here was a student guide, um, that had all the courses that would be required and a checklist that you would go through.

While a manual may have been available to John, he did not know how to access it, thus rendering it useless to him. Graduate departments should consider developing handbooks or other resources for students and clearly communicating to students how these materials can be accessed.


Our study adds to the existing literature in a number of ways. We found that in addition to students’ primary concern for financial support that covers tuition and living costs, other forms of support were important to maintain or increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in graduate programs. This includes support from the supervisors of students in their assistantships, academic advisors, as well as peers. In peer networks advanced graduate students help guide newly admitted students. Other support graduate students noted were critical to their ability to find success included writing assistance (feedback from faculty, informal and formal writing groups), and a comprehensive student handbook. Commitment, as well as information about these various kinds of support, should happen when decisions about admission are being made at the very start of enrollment in graduate programs.

Implications for the Future

Equity, inclusion, and access are important areas for higher education to address. One area that can provide a broad and immediate influence is the retention, progression, and graduation of students from historically marginalized groups. Successfully graduating more students from historically marginalized backgrounds diversifies the pipeline of qualified candidates for faculty and administrative positions. Whether academic programs utilize a handbook or website, students desire a way to ensure their degree progress, especially if they have faculty advisors who are not well versed in program requirements. Clearly outlining program expectations not only benefits currently enrolled students but also provides guidance to those students who may be in the process of evaluating academic programs for future enrollment. Additionally, this guiding resource would provide a resource for faculty to share to limit the total strain on their time.

While the challenges that graduate students from historically marginalized backgrounds face are significant, faculty and staff can take the steps to help mitigate those difficulties. Access to financial assistance through graduate assistantships should be a top priority for institutions seeking to diversify their graduate student populations, but other support structures such as academic advising, peer networks, writing support, and student handbooks should also be considered and implemented. To ensure a competent and diverse pipeline of future professionals, faculty and staff must reconsider what it means to provide adequate support to graduate students, and the recommendations that we have outlined offer a starting point for this shift.

Questions for Your Consideration

Recognizing the inherent inequity of the student experience is important when institutions fail to retain students from historically excluded backgrounds. Failing to address the inequity furthers the negative impact on retention for graduate students of color. The enrollment landscape and continued diversification moving forward will increase competition and require that universities both acquire and retain graduate students to maintain the viability of programs. An important question to contemplate is how graduate students working in poorly funded content areas, such as education or the humanities, can acquire graduate assistantships that provide financial support comparable to more robustly funded fields such as science, technology, and business.


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About the Authors

Alex Johnson works with the Office of the Ombudsperson as a graduate research assistant and is in her 2nd year as a doctoral student in the Educational Policy Studies program with a concentration on Social Foundations at Georgia State University. She hails from Cincinnati, Ohio where she earned her B.A. in Spanish and M.A in Higher Education Administration at the University of Cincinnati. Her professional experiences include teaching elementary school, and working with students with disabilities, minority affinity groups, and advocacy organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Her research interests include access and retention, leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion, and cultural exchange in higher education.

Dr. Chara Haeussler Bohan, Professor, Georgia State University, College of Education and Human Development, Department of Educational Policy Studies, specializes in educational history with a focus on gender and race, curriculum and instruction, and social studies education. She has approximately 100 publications. She is co-author, with historian H. Robert Baker and Black history educator, LaGarrett J. King of the forthcoming book, Teaching Enslavement in American History: Lesson Plans and Primary Sources (Peter Lang, 2022). She has been awarded three grants titled, “Courting Liberty: Slavery and Equality Under the Constitution, 1770-1870” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dr. Kristina Mickel Clement is the Assistant Dean of Students for Leadership and Service at Georgia State University and has worked in higher education for over 20 years in housing, first year programs, fraternity and sorority life, and leadership development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science, a Master of Science in College Student Personnel, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Policy Studies. Her doctoral dissertation focused the history of the First Amendment on college campus and its influence on student activism.

Benjamin M. Williams is the Donor Experience Officer for Georgia State. He spent the first eight years of his career as an administrator in Student Success & Student Affairs most recently as the Director of Student Orientation & Family Engagement. He received his B.A. in Sociology from Georgia State and his M.S. in Educational Leadership at Miami University. Benjamin is also a doctoral student at Georgia State University where he focused on higher education, physical space, and student success enhancements.

“Never Did I Ever!”: A Creative Reflection on Accompanying Each Other through Pandemics and Upheaval, Hodes et al.

written by: Jacqueline Hodes, Orkideh Mohajeri, Jai-La Aponte, Summie Bledsoe, Katherine Canazzi, Katherine Clay, Cara Fordenbacher, Jayla Godfrey, Gianna Machado, Melissa MacPherson, Nicholas Marcil, Kathryn Melvin, Catherine Purcell, MaryClare Rae, Emily Rooney, Elizabeth Roberts, Lauren Sealy, Darryl Thomas

In a time of loss and isolation, we chose resilience.

How we shared the same room but not the same space,

existed somewhere between together and apart,

on the same journey, but different paths. (Jocelyn)[1]

Never did we ever anticipate the events of these past two years. As we boarded the plane in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Nashville, Tennessee to attend the annual ACPA Convention, our graduate students were combing the airport searching in vain for hand sanitizer. At the opening keynote for the 2020 Convention, we were encouraged to bump elbows in greeting each other as we ironically sat almost atop each other in the connected auditorium seats to take in the wisdom of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. COVID-19 seemed far away and a precaution but not an inevitability.

Later that evening, Jackie was standing outside of the conference hotel when Orkideh told her that faculty on our campus were discussing the possibility of holding classes on Zoom. We dismissed the thought. Never did we ever believe that what seemed impossible and improbable in Nashville would be reality five days later in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

We traveled home to Philadelphia on a full flight, having experienced the devastating Nashville tornado that killed 25 people and injured many more. Many of our students attending the conference were witness to the destruction and deaths that occurred. Never did we ever believe we would be supporting a student who was lucky enough to narrowly miss the path of the tornado only to find herself trying to revive someone—a stranger to her—who did not survive.

We headed home to collect ourselves over Spring Break with plans for end-of-semester rituals and relief. Never did we ever expect the email notification that arrived mid-week. Our institution made a bold and difficult decision to move to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, one of the first universities in the region to do so. A staggering amount of information followed via email, in a blur of constant decision-making and shifting plans. As we balanced our own personal lives and concerns, we were also cognizant of the many needs of the students in our program. These graduate students, many having just experienced the synergy of thousands of colleagues gathered together to learn and celebrate higher education and student affairs at the Nashville Convention, were now finding themselves isolated, alone, worried, and confused. And so were we.

The remainder of the spring semester was fraught with anxiety, worry, concern, and an understanding of the reality of moving our work and lives to Zoom. In this time of apprehension and unease, our faculty colleagues were determined to meet students with kindness, compassion, understanding, and reassurance. They did so while responding to the unknown and unprecedented reality that was changing on a daily basis. Each day brought new information and decisions that required responses that were measured, thoughtful, empathic, and strategic. We were exhausted and depleted, and so were students. Never did we ever anticipate that we would shift our energy from planning celebrations to planning how to support students whose parents and loved ones (many who were essential workers) had contracted COVID in the early days of the pandemic.

And then we all witnessed the recorded murder of George Floyd.

And this documented barbarity partially roused the nation from its slumber, allowing us to momentarily “see” the murders of other Black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, and many others.[2]

Students were devastated, scared, confused, and angry. Many were compelled to participate in protests and conversations that occurred that summer. In classes and program spaces, we talked, read literature, assembled resources, grieved, recited poetry, turned to music, and engaged in discussion—connecting our anger, confusion, rage, and disappointment to course content and a critique of white supremacy and police brutality. We watched as one student was called to duty in the National Guard, not just once to work with COVID protocols, but a second time to help quell violence related to the uprising after the murder of Floyd.

Suddenly, one local high school got rid of its Native mascot—no town halls, debates, or prolonged processes needed! Suddenly universities and colleges in the region and across the nation were having conversations about anti-racism, and some were taking quick action to rename buildings and remove statues on quads. What had previously been cast as intractable, complicated issues were now easily resolved in the wake of the egregious murder of Floyd and the unassailable, recorded evidence. Never did we ever believe we would witness the sudden changes that occurred, especially from companies and corporations wedded to the benefits of capitalism.

The summer brought more ambiguity as our institution contemplated the return to in-person instruction, but ultimately decided on another remote semester. Never did we ever imagine we would welcome a new cohort of graduate students with a remote orientation, online classes, and virtual graduate assistantships. But we did. We became more adept at Zoom, from scheduling meetings to creating backgrounds. We figured out how to put students in breakout rooms for more intimate conversations, how to engage student feedback in the chat, how to unmute ourselves, and how to share our screens and audio.

And we had important conversations about how to shift our curriculum to include more content related to racial justice, whiteness as a power formation, and activism and action. Never did we ever believe, just a few semesters later, that we would revise our curriculum to have incoming master’s students begin their degree program with a new, required course entitled Critical Genealogies of Race in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Part of the intention behind the creation of this course and its positioning in the first semester is to explicitly center racialization as a force that has always already shaped higher education and young adult development in the U.S., and to grow a habit of critically analyzing the productions and strategies of racialization as higher education and student affairs professionals.

As we proposed these changes in our curriculum, we also did what many others did. We stepped back, critically reviewed the situation, and began to pivot. We went back to basics and relied on what we knew to be true about supporting students. And we challenged ourselves to think critically about those basics and adapt them to the needs of the students in the moment. We made internal programmatic decisions about ways to satisfy internship requirements, reducing the required 500 hours to 400. During these life-changing simultaneous pandemics, students were completing the program’s capstone project, A Critical Action Research Thesis Proposal. This non-traditional culminating project asks students to identify a question or concern about higher education and student affairs. Then, through literature review, examining best practices, and the lens of coursework, students design and amplify an intervention to address the concern. We spent hours meeting individually with students on Zoom as they wrestled with their writing and attempt to “solve” a problem with a critical lens. 

We brainstormed ideas for continued engagement over the summer and through the following academic year. We held Zoom scavenger hunts, created a mentor/mentee matching program, sent small packages, postcards, and personal messages through the post office to connect students to us, to the program, and to the University. And much to our surprise and joy, students found creative ways to connect on their own, including forming online writing groups, virtual happy hours, and, in a few cases, romantic relationships.

Now, in May 2022, 28 graduate students, who experienced much of their graduate program online and virtually, who questioned if they would make it through the program during that first virtual year, will be graduating and preparing to take on new or enhanced professional positions in higher education and student affairs. It is a testament to their resilience that all who began that journey with us in August 2020 are ending it with us just two years later. They tell their stories in their own powerful voices. Those stories parallel the stories of so many students across the country who also worked to make meaning of this moment in time. Below, we share student narrative responses to the prompt, “Never did I ever.” This is followed by important themes that emerged across the set of written reflections. Never did they ever:

…imagine that I would be where I am today. The pandemic completely uprooted my life. I have never felt as lost as I have during these past two years. Thinking back, this time two years ago, I was traveling to new countries (and getting paid for it!) and living my life to the fullest. Today, I can’t go anywhere without a mask, a spare mask, and some hand sanitizer. I can’t get my students to answer emails. I sometimes can’t even find the motivation to do my schoolwork. (Reese, 29, heterosexual[3], female, white, international student services)

Never did I ever think a global pandemic would provide me with the opportunity to go back to school. I had wanted to pursue a second master’s degree for several years but it was never “the right time.” While the online format was not what I would have chosen in an ideal world, it was a low-risk entry point, as it allowed me to keep my full-time job while attending classes, as both were able to happen inside my house. (Bonnie, 33, heterosexual, woman, white, immigrant)

Never did I ever imagine in 2020, I would be raising a 3-year-old, be a full time graduate student, continue to work in-person full time as a student affairs professional, all while trying to survive in a pandemic. (Leilani, 28, heterosexual, female, Black, mother)

Never did I ever think that I would build the greatest relationships with my current student staff, never did I ever think that I would meet people who would support me though the good, bad, and ugly, and never did I ever think I would develop into the best version of myself. (Georgette, 24, pansexual, female, white)

Never did I ever think a global pandemic would change the trajectory of my life, but two years in, I am about to take another leap to a new job and none of it would have been possible without that virtual year and the investment of my mentors at WCU. (Bonnie)

Never did I ever imagine finding good company in another professor like I did during undergrad. When you have these trying times in your life, it is hard to find someone who understands, and who is there to support you. It is hard for me to open up about struggles, for fear of how I am perceived, or if professors think I am just making excuses. I never shared my feelings directly with these professors, but it came out in some of my work. (Reese)

Never did I ever think I would be starting my graduate school journey online at home in Florida. While in my first semester of graduate school, I made friends with openly and freely queer people, who showed me the possibilities for queer people in a way that I never knew was possible. Never did I ever think I would meet a group of people who lived in their queerness so beautifully… I decided to come out to my family, and shortly thereafter, the world. Never did I ever think it would have the reaction it did… but never did I ever know how truly freeing it would be. (Felicia, 24, queer, cisgender woman, white)

As the proud new owner of my very own pandemic baby, I never imagined the adventure that pandemic graduate school would bring. Like every new parent, navigating life with a newborn was an adjustment but COVID added a new layer of difficulty. Learning to e-read while soothing a fussy baby was full of acrobatic fun. I quickly learned to love the closed captioning function on web calls so that I could participate while she slept. My cohort was unphased by random toy sound effects during our meetings. Some of them were even kind enough to take notes while we did baby bicycle legs. (Kennedy, 35, heterosexual, female, white)

The above narratives illustrate how much the pandemic was unexpected, and how much it shook up individual student lives. In the midst of this turmoil, many students moved back home with parents, while still looking for new ways to learn and grow, including starting graduate studies. Overall, however, the pandemic forced us all to slow down and contemplate our purpose and our choices, as described in the next segment.

A Moment of Pause

Students navigated uncertainty, confusion, political polarization, misinformation, and new information on an evolving and complex global crisis every day. Mona (24 years old, lesbian, ciswoman, white) shared that she “struggled in the first six months of the pandemic, trying to navigate graduate school on Zoom, barely leaving the house and not seeing my friends in person.” Many echoed these sentiments of uncertainty and confusion. But cohort members also noted that the pandemic and the lockdown had unexpected benefits. In the same reflection, Mona also remarked:

The time at home allowed me to do something I had never had the chance to before. I was able to just exist with myself. I was not trying to form or shape or fit in but was growing more comfortable with who I was and who I wanted to be.

Leilani, a full-time graduate student, full-time single parent, and full-time employee at a neighboring university, explained that “the pandemic allowed us to finally take a look at where we were in life, at work, at home, and essentially let us ask that dreadful question you ask [yourself] after Year 2 on the job, ‘Am I happy?’” Other students shared the following:

Looking back, I remember being alone and just laying around all day, but there was so much peace in that. You see, one way of coping with my trauma was to always be busy. [I] always had to be over-involved in something. I was always too over-committed. However, COVID was the first time in my entire life I got to experience my pain instead of bottling it up. In this apartment, I was able to process everything that occurred, especially what occurred with [the loss of] my older brother. (Sarita, 24, queer, female, white)

However, this notion of ‘Maybe it was exactly the time I needed to do this!’ kept coming [back] in[to] my mind. I would be gaining this unique experience of learning about and from students during a time of social justice global awakening and in a format that has never been seen before. So, once I finally found a GA, I decided to give it a shot. (Paloma, 25, bisexual, woman, white)

A pandemic that put a lot on pause

It gave a fresh perspective

On what I wanted to do and what I wanted to see…

I was grateful for the little things I had and what I could do

A time of great reflection on my own life and struggles

Better understanding of myself and the world (Newman, 24, straight, male, white)

Although students struggled with the time alone, the time at home, and the time in contemplation, they also recognized the opportunities inherent in this pause. They pushed themselves to consider the gift that lay within the silence and the slowing down. They also gradually built a new community of friends in the program cohort and found connections that could help them manage the uncertainty and difficulty of the moment.

The Cohort

Students noted surprise and gratitude for the close and vital friendships they were able to make with one another, despite distance and format. Paloma explained that she “met my classmates from the chest up, with their childhood bedrooms in the background. We bonded in GroupMe chats and late night Jackbox sessions over Zoom.” In fact, via Wi-Fi and over class readings, love bloomed and two long-term partnerships were formed among cohort members. Additionally, many formed meaningful connections with faculty and staff, especially at their various virtual graduate assistantship sites. Leilani exclaimed, “Never have I ever been so inspired by a group of people [as the members of the cohort]!” Additionally, the following reflections were shared:

I was able to make surprisingly deep friendships online in a way I never had before, bonding over the shared experience of ‘Everything is so weird right now.’ They could show me their bedrooms, their pets, items that were special to them, in a way they wouldn’t have if we weren’t looking through little windows into each other’s homes. (Kaya, 25, bisexual, female, white)

Never have I ever thought that I would meet an intelligent and caring group of classmates, professors, and graduate assistantship coworkers in higher education. (Donovan, 25, straight, cismale, Black)

These friendships and connections became an integral part of the graduate program experience and have continued to serve students as they near graduation and their first professional roles in the field. But change did not stop with just the year at home in isolation. Another significant change was the return to campus for the second year of the program.

Transition within Transition

There were multiple layers of transition for everyone, including the transition when students came back to campus in Year 2 of their degree program. This transition included coming back to graduate assistantship offices, to Residence Life work and residence hall management, and to the classroom—masked and cautious. This return to a version of “normalcy” also constituted another substantial transition. Students explained:

When classes turned to in-person in my second year, I had to reevaluate the accessibility of the program for me. Much of my experience in the program has taught me about leadership, good company, and setting boundaries—to be able to focus on what is important to me, which led me to the decision to leave my full-time job for a graduate assistantship on campus. This felt like a big risk at the time, giving up the financial security [of full-time employment], but my previous position was not serving me or my values, and my new assistantship provided me with so much more than I could have imagined. (Bonnie)

And yet, there was something I didn’t feel until I was in person, a certain level of connectedness with the reality of this program I didn’t feel before. In many ways virtual learning made things easier for me, and I’ve been ruminating on what that means for my graduate school experience. The determination I’ve come to is that virtual learning made this program feel possible for me—socially, financially. And once I was in it, doing the work, I realized I was capable of it.

In having both a virtual and in-person graduate school experience, I cannot say which way is ‘better’, only that each way has its own benefits and drawbacks, and that each was vital to my development as a person and a Student Affairs professional. (Kaya)

Though challenging, the ability to adapt, grow, and occasionally thrive in the midst of transition constitutes strength that students can continue to draw on in the future. Students reflected in meaningful ways on their own self-growth with an understanding that there was a juxtaposition of feelings and experiences that sometimes conflict. They realized they were resilient and vulnerable, strong and flexible, and strategic and adaptable.


As we write this reflection, students are busy putting finishing touches on their master’s theses, busy editing and finding that final citation, and looking forward to graduation in a few weeks, where they will celebrate in person with family and friends (although perhaps masked again since the Omicron BA.2 variant is sweeping the Northeast). As the current discourse about the future of student affairs, the bubble of higher education, the Great Resignation sweeping the nation, the demographic cliff, and lack of student engagement swirls around us, we are bolstered by the resilience of these graduate students poised to take on the great challenges. They also realize how far they have traveled and how much they have grown:

I have learned that I am adaptable, flexible, determined and resilient just like the students I serve. I have had the privilege of learning the art of pivoting from professionals also processing the world’s social climate. I could not have dreamed of a different outcome to my post-graduate experiences, and I have never been prouder of myself for accomplishing what I have to date. (Morgan, 25, straight, female, white)

Never did I ever imagine this is what the world would be like. We are in a world, in a field, where so much has changed and we are forced to change with it. As students, as early-career professionals, and experienced mentors in the field, life, school, and work have changed drastically, and it makes me wonder what lies ahead. (Reese)

This whole process has taught me that I am stronger than I think, and I am braver than I knew I could be. (Kennedy)

Never did I ever imagine considering doctoral programs, and when I started applying, I was most definitely not expecting to get accepted to any. Writing my statements of purpose was daunting because I still cannot believe that two years have passed since the pandemic began… As the process went on, I could not believe that I was asked to interview, and I still feel like my first acceptance letter was not real. (Reese)

Lived experience is a great teacher. Now, we know in our bodies that we can do hard things. We know that we can slow down amidst turmoil. We know—in a deeper, embodied way—that self-reflection leads to insight and growth. We know that we have each other to turn to and rely on. And we know that we have a unique commitment—a core value—in this field of higher education and student affairs that is not necessarily as explicit in some other fields: the commitment to serve others, the dedication to the growth and development of others, even in the midst of global upheavals, immense uncertainty, and hate-fueled violence. This value can serve as a touchstone as we continue to navigate disorientation and change, on personal, professional, national, and global levels.

Having come back around to a deeper knowing of our resilience, care, and ability, as well as the nature of our chosen profession, we close our collective reflection with the last two stanzas from a poem written by Cora (27 years old, queer, ciswoman, white, artist):

I used to perform to be seen

But now I wish to see others

Helping them turn the lens on themselves–

Giving testimony to their growth


My purpose has transformed into a living entity

With the knowledge that I was never a singularity

And that the unexpected

Arrived on time


Jacqueline Hodes, Ed.D. (she/her) is a Professor of Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Orkideh Mohajeri, Ph.D. (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Jai-La Aponte (she/they) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a Resident Director & Student Life Coordinator at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Summie Bledsoe (she/they) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a Hall Director for two residential communities.

Katherine Canazzi (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Dub-C Autism Program, the Greg and Sandra Weisenstein Veterans Center, and the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Katherine Clay (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Center for Civic Engagement and Social Impact.

Cara Fordenbacher (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Office of Residence Life & Housing Services, serving as a Graduate Hall Director.

Jayla Godfrey (she/her/they/them) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Gianna Machado (they/them) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University, a graduate assistant in the Office of Wellness Promotion at West Chester University, and a graduate assistant for programming and events at Ursinus College.

Melissa (Missy) MacPherson (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Office of Off-Campus and Commuter Services.

Nick Marcil (he/him) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Center for Civic Engagement & Social Impact.

Kathryn Melvin (she/they) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and employed as an International Student Coordinator at Swarthmore College.

Catherine Purcell (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University, a graduate assistant within West Chester’s Success Coaching Program, and serves as the Assistant Director of Career Development at Moore College of Art and Design.

MaryClare Rae (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate assistant in the Office of New Student Programs.

Elizabeth Roberts (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and a graduate student in the Office of Student Leadership & Involvement.

Emily Rooney (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and employed as the Associate Director of International Programs at West Chester University.

Lauren Sealy (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and is approaching her sixth year as a professional in Student Affairs.

Darryl Thomas, Jr. (he/him/his) is a third-year graduate student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University and serves as a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Conduct.

[1] Specific quotes and contributions from co-authors—such as this poem—are attributed throughout this manuscript with pseudonyms. This choice was made to allow space for individual voices while protecting students who continue to be particularly vulnerable at this moment in time.

[2] Related resources with a particular focus on 2020 include: Al Jazeera’s interactive presentation, Know Their Names: Black People Killed by the Police in the U.S., Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls – a report from the Urban Indian Health Institute, and Violence against the Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Community in 2020 at the Human Rights Campaign website.

[3] We choose to list student demographic characteristics so that readers could both note the range of diversity among the graduate student population and also connect with these narratives and experiences, all while maintaining a level of anonymity. We use the exact wording offered by students in regards to identity markers.

The Changing Workplace: A Case Study, Nicklas

written by: Drew Nicklas

As we conclude another pandemic year, it is a good time to reflect on what we have endured, created, and learned during COVID-19. One of the changes that is serving to transform our workplaces and work spaces in the idea of remote work. With that in mind, as a point of reflection this spring as well as a possible tool for use in the fall as new academic years begin, consider the following case study and reflective prompts. How do remote work options affect your workplace and teams?

The Case

How should supervisors address graduate student requests to work remotely? How should graduate students approach their supervisors with these requests?

The Setting

Tinker University (TU) is a large, public, land-grant institution in the South. Historically, it has been a traditional campus with online learning options for courses, but not a lot of online work options for staff. The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to work remotely for most of the first year of the pandemic. Now that staff are able to be back on campus, offices are exploring options for their team members.

Tinker University’s student affairs M.Ed. program requires all full-time graduate students to be employed as graduate assistants within a department that works directly with college student.  The continuation of their graduate assistantship is a requirement of students in order to graduate.  From this requirement, students get practical work experience, have their tuition costs covered, and receive a graduate stipend to assist with additional costs of attending graduate school.

Key Players

  • Janie (she/her) – a white woman. Second year graduate student. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.
  • Simone (she/her) – a white woman. Second year graduate student. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.
  • Lissa (she/her) – a white woman. In her sixth year as a staff member and program director at Tinker University. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.

The Situation

Janie (she/her) and Simone (she/her) are currently in the fall semester of their second year of graduate school.  Since March, Simone has been working from home to assist with a family member who is ill.  Simone is an out-of-state student and working from home has allowed her to continue her graduate studies while helping support her family member.

In November, ahead of the spring semester, Janie learns that one of her grandparents is in poor health and needs live-in support to aid with her recovery. Learning this and being aware of the support Simone received to work from home while helping her family, Janie tells family she should be able to come home and help care to her grandparent’s needs.  Janie gets permission from her faculty to continue her classes virtually in the spring, however, when she meets with her supervisor, Lissa, Janie is told that she cannot work from home because she was hired to a position that requires, she be working in-person.

Janie is upset by Lissa’s decision because she feels that she could continue to do her job remotely and is confused about why Simone was given permission to work remotely when Simone was hired for a position that has historically been in-person like hers.  She is also worried because of the impact her Lissa’s decision has on her graduate student status. In Janie’s program, students are required to have a graduate assistantship. Additionally without a GA she loses financial aid to help her complete the degree. Finally, Janie is concerned because her family is not sure who can help her grandparent now that Janie is unable to.

Janie asks Lissa if they can have more discussions about an option for Janie to work from home because her family really needs her support, but she also needs to maintain her graduate assistantship in order to graduate. Lissa says she is empathetic and shares that the office has prepared three different options knowing that having a graduate assistantship is a graduation requirement for Janie’s graduate program.  Lissa tells her to take the week to consider the following options, ask questions, and then to let Lissa know how she would like to proceed.

Option 1: Janie can return to the office and continue in her role.

Option 2: Janie can apply for a waiver through Human Resources.  If approved, Janie would be allowed to continue her job and work remotely.  Janie is aware of the waiver, but also knows that the waiver is most often used for documented medical needs.

Option 3: Lissa has offered to provide Janie with a different role on the team, one that does not work with students and would meet the criteria of positions that the department allows to work from home.  This position would be more administrative work and would result in Janie not getting the kinds of rich experiences that would develop her as a professional and would not make her as marketable as her current position.

Following the meeting with Lissa, Janie is frustrated and anxious.  She wants to stay in her current assistantship because she enjoys the work and her financial assistance is guaranteed, but she also is concerned about her grandparent’s health and feels she needs to be home to support her family.  She is also frustrated that she is having to make this decision when Simone was able to continue her role while working from home without having to navigate these extra steps and considerations.


  1. What additional information might Janie need before she makes a decision? Where might she go to get that information?
  2. What, if any, additional options might Janie want to consider or pursue?
  3. How might this situation be different (or similar) if the three people involved did not share the same identities? Could there be other implications or considerations?
  4. As a profession, how do we balance individual staff needs with student needs? In this balance, how do we discuss graduate students and their position as staff and students?
  5. What assumptions do we make about the value of face-to-face meetings as opposed to the value of virtual meetings?
  6. What research and assessment might we need to do to more fully understand the changing dynamics of our work culture in the aftermath of the pandemic (whenever that time comes)?

Drew Nicklas completed her M.Ed. in Student Affairs last Spring is the Parent and Family Programs Coordinator at San José State University.

“You could be great you know, it’s all here”: Harry Potter and the Student Affairs Competencies, Boettcher, Wein, Zin

written by: Michelle L. Boettcher, Sydney Wein, and Nikalette Zina


As higher education and student affairs practitioners, we develop and evaluate our skills through the ACPA/NASPA Competencies (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). We ask students in our student affairs programs to know and understand the competencies and to examine their abilities through the lens of the competencies. This is a daunting task. To learn the framework, engage in self-examination, and reflect on one’s own growth all while being immersed in a graduate program (and doing an assistantship or full-time job) is a big ask.

So, what might it look like if we had a common frame of reference—a shared cultural experience where we could apply the competencies? What if it was not just about individual students starting with themselves, but instead we had a model to which we could map the competencies? We suggest that we do have such a model. We have a set of students who are widely known and an educational context with its own unique culture, faculty, and curriculum. We can look at how the competencies converge and can map them to these students in this context.

In the Harry Potter book series Harry, Hermione, and Ron progress through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and learn and grow in ways that mirror college student development. Hogwarts is not a university, but the parallels between Hogwarts students and college students are clear. In this article we provide examples of how student affairs professional competencies are exemplified in the first book in the series—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Rowling, 1997).

Acknowledging the Problematic Nature of J. K. Rowling

We would be negligent if we did not acknowledge the issues with J. K. Rowling as an author. In a forthcoming article in the Journal of College Character (to be published fall 2022), we discuss Rowling’s transphobia along with our rationale for continuing to utilize the Harry Potter series as a resource. In short, the work is more than the author. As with any creative work, the stories become the property of the readers as they make their own meaning and find their own connections to the text. To cast aside a series that has had such a tremendous impact on our culture is more problematic than engaging in intentional and meaningful ways with the work.

Students starting college direct from high school students have never known a world without Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for children’s series for more than 13 years (New York Times, 2022). In addition to the eight movies based on the seven novels in the series there are currently three other films based on the books in the Fantastic Beasts film series (2016, 2018, 2022) along with a play and additional films in development. In short, the books and movies continue to inform the experience of incoming college students and student affairs professionals.

Rather than ignoring this huge social and cultural influence, we encourage student affairs practitioners to engage with the texts. Using the books (and films) and surfacing problematic issues within them is a catalyst for learning, growth, and understanding. Similarly, the unacceptable, harmful, and ignorant comments of the author provide additional opportunities for learning. It is with a desire to further complicate and wrestle with difficult issues (rather than ignoring them) that we offer the Potter series for your consideration.

Rowling has done harm to the trans community. That needs to be part of the conversation whenever anyone uses or references her work. There are problematic characters, language, and behaviors in the text. Just as institutions of higher education are dealing with their problematic histories, Hogwarts must wrestle with its problematic “founder”—Rowling. As student affairs professionals, our work has never been simple and has always involved acknowledging and challenging problematic histories. These texts have the potential to be another part of that work.

Hogwarts and Higher Education

Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger are not college students or student affairs professionals. When they begin at Hogwarts they are starting junior high. That said, they grow and develop throughout the text in each of the competency areas just as we hope graduate students in SA programs and student affairs professionals grow and develop.

We thematically coded the text of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using the competencies. This information can be used to guide reading, analysis, and to cultivate an understanding of competency development in student affairs programs. For several reasons we intentionally focused on the first book. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone provides the context needed to understand subsequent books. The main characters go through tremendous change in book one. Finally, the students are starting at a new institution just as many student affairs graduate students and new professionals do when they begin their programs and first jobs.

Harry Potter and the Student Affairs Competencies

In the following section we have mapped the ACPA/NASPA competencies to the text. We selected exemplar quotes and descriptions from the book that align with competency areas. The examples within the text make it a rich and practical guide to understanding how competencies show up in lived experiences.

Personal and Ethical Foundations

Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF) is defined in the competencies as, “the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop and maintain integrity in one’s life and work” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 16). In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone PEF emerges as the individual values and ethical practices Harry, Ron, Hermione and other characters employ. They face a number of challenges in the book related to this competency.

In chapter 10, Harry, Ron and Hermione are not friends yet. Harry had just become a member of the Quidditch team after breaking rules about not flying without a faculty member present. Ron and Harry were excited, but Hermione was upset and told them she did not like that they ignored Hogwarts policy. In response, Ron made mean comments to other first year Gryffindors about Hermione. When she overheard the conversation, Ron stood by what he said but felt guilty for saying things about Hermione.

Later, Harry and Ron overheard Hermione was in the girl’s restroom crying about what Ron said. Later, the faculty announced there was a troll in the castle and Professor Dumbledore told everyone to go to their house chambers. Harry and Ron went to find Hermione so she would not be in danger. Harry and Ron should have followed directions, but they felt responsible to make sure Hermione was safe. Together they defeat the troll.

At the end of the chapter, Hermione took the blame for not following the rules, instead of telling on Harry and Ron. Through this shared experience they connected. The book says, “But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became [Harry and Ron’s] friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them” (Rowling, 1997, p. 179)

Another example of PEF is in Chapter 12, where Harry and Ron learn about the “Mirror of Erised” which reflects back what a person desires most. Harry saw his family standing with him, and Ron saw himself as Head Boy and winning the Quidditch Cup. Through this we learn what pushes each character to be better and how they want to grow as individuals. Harry was seeking a sense of belonging. Ron wanted to distinguish himself through his achievements at Hogwarts.

Throughout the book we see students facing challenges. The decisions they make show who they are, but the lessons they learn as result of those decisions inform their growth and development. Just as with first-year college students, these characters seek friendship, a sense of belonging, and desire to understand who they are. Also just like first-year college students, they make a combination of good and bad choices during the year that inform their personal and ethical foundations.

Values, Philosophy, and History

ACPA and NASPA (2015) define Values, Philosophy, and History (VPH) as, “the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that connect the history, philosophy and values of the student affairs profession to one’s current professional practice” (p. 18). In the wizarding world, values inform characters, culture, and Hogwarts’ institutional history.

An excellent example of VPH is in Chapter 7.

“Hmm.” said a small voice in [Harry’s] ear. “Difficult, very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent, oh my goodness, yes—and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that’s interesting… so where shall I put you?” Harry gripped the edge of the stool and thought, Not Slytherin, not Slytherin. “Not Slytherin, eh?” said the small voice. “Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that—no? Well if you’re sure–better be GRYFFINDOR!” (p. 121).

This was a pivotal moment for first-year Hogwarts students because they are placed in their Hogwarts House: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw—which will serve as their primary communities while in school. The houses were founded on the values each house’s namesake found to be important in the development of young witches and wizards: Gryffindors are brave and courageous, Slytherins are cunning and ambitious, Ravenclaws are clever and logical, and Hufflepuffs are loyal and honest.

Harry, Ron and Hermione had different experiences and expectations when they were placed in Gryffindor. Ron is a Gryffindor legacy. Hermione did her research on each of the houses, and decided she wanted to be a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. Harry saw his new nemesis Draco Malfoy placed in Slytherin and so Harry does not want to be there.

The element of selection and placement based on values mirrors fraternity and sorority involvement. Ideally, you join an organization that shares your values. At Hogwarts, the Gryffindors value courage and bravery; a Panhellenic woman might join an organization that values love, labor, learning, and loyalty. Each house becomes more than just people who study and live together, they become a network of support. As the story progresses, Harry becomes more at home at Hogwarts because of his sense of belonging in Gryffindor.

Hogwarts houses are also similar to learning communities or residential colleges, where communities of peers connect academically and personally. There are similarities between Hogwarts houses and traditional residence hall floors as well. Additionally, the idea of houses may resonate with student affairs graduate students. Ideally, their graduate cohort may be a community where students share academic experiences and also find connections related to social identity, personal interests, and professional goals.

Assessment, Evaluation, and Research

The Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER) competency is defined as, “the ability to design, conduct, critique, and use various AER methodologies and the results… to inform practice, and to shape the political and ethical climate [in higher education]” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 12). Throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see AER in an academic context as students’ learning is assessed through homework, labs, in-class participation, and examinations.

The book showcases AER beyond traditional academic measurements, though. In Chapter 16, Harry, Hermione, and Ron used theory to practice when they made their way to the Sorcerer’s Stone. Working as a team, each of them utilized the skills they developed to achieve their shared goal.

First, Harry used what he learned to avoid one of the resident ghosts, the Hogwarts caretaker, and a three-headed dog guarding the entry point to the Sorcerer’s Stone. Hermione applied what she learned in herbology to get around a plant protecting the stone. Harry’s talent for flying on his broomstick—developed through Quidditch, helped him retrieve a key to enter the room where Ron, played Wizard’s Chess so they could get to the next room. After Hermione used her skills at logic to get them through the ring of fire safely, Harry applied his knowledge about the Mirror of Erised to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone and defeat his opponent, Professor Quirrell/Voldemort.

This chapter provides an unorthodox assessment that proves everything these students learned in their first year at Hogwarts. While Hermione excelled in the classroom in traditionally academic ways, each of them utilized things they learned to successfully save their school and the wizarding world from Voldemort. Basic herbology and flying were formal lessons taught to the students. However, cleverness, persistence, and logic were skills they learned from each other and their peers in and out of the classroom.

Law, Policy, and Governance

Law, policy, and governance show up in this book in a variety of ways. From the very beginning, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore laid out expectations and rules. He welcomed students saying:

First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well…

I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors…

And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to anyone who does not wish to die a very painful death. (Rowling, 1997, pp. 126-127).

Here Dumbledore outlines expectations related to student behavior and shares potential consequences for violating the rules.

Dumbledore is not the only LPG expert at Hogwarts, however. As the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, Professor McGonagall works to ensure students follow policies and holds individuals accountable for breaking rules. In her role as faculty member and pseudo-conduct officer, she provides guidance on how to be successful students at Hogwarts. Other faculty and staff award or deduct house points which are added up to determine which house earns the House Cup each year.

Additionally, older students help students follow rules and hold younger students accountable as necessary. There is also peer pressure to accumulate House Cup points. Violating rules can result losing points. Hermione articulates the communal motivation to work toward house success when she confronts Ron and Harry about breaking rules. “Don’t you care about Gryffindor, do you only care about yourselves?” (Rowling, 1997, p. 155). There are rules and potential consequences for violating them.

Other examples of LPG in the text include the Ministry of Magic which oversees Hogwarts and other wizarding schools. Filch is perhaps the most zealous enforcer of policies. That said, each teacher on the faculty has their own way of enforcing rules and expectations in their classrooms.

The rules and policies at Hogwarts are very much a part of the hidden curriculum (Jackson, 1968) of the institution—the parts of school and culture that are not directly taught. In higher education the hidden curriculum can include cultural norms and expectations as well as how to get involved, build a resume, navigate administrative processes, etc. There are different cultural norms and expectations at Hogwarts (and in the wizarding community) than what Hermione and Harry are used to. Hermione does much of her learning through books and research. Harry does most of his through trial and error, making mistakes and learning from them.

Organizational and Human Resources

Organizational and Human Resources (OHR) focuses on skills and knowledge regarding management of human capital, financial, and physical resources. Several times throughout the book, Dumbledore talks about OHR responsibilities. His start-of-term notices highlight a number of these. The forest on Hogwarts’ grounds is forbidden to pupils—this speaks to risk and liability. He tells students there should be no magic in the halls between classes which alludes to the appropriate use of technology, risk, and facilities. He introduces Madam Hooch as the faculty coordinator/advisor for Quidditch which is one of her roles as a part of the faculty. He concludes with the fact that part of the building is off limits which again refers to safety and facilities as well as expectations.

Another way the text centers facilities management as part of OHR focuses on Mr. Filch and his cat who take care of Hogwarts.

Harry and Ron managed to get on the wrong side of [Hogwarts’ caretaker Argus Filch] on their very first day… Filch owned a cat called Mrs. Norris… She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she’d whisk off for Filch, who’d appear wheezing two seconds later. Filch knew the passageways of the school better than anyone. (Rowling, 1997, p. 132-133)

This exemplifies how Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris function as members of the facilities/risk management team for Hogwarts. They are determined to make sure students are following policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff, and the school itself.

Also aligned with OHR competencies are roles and responsibilities of faculty and staff such as who teaches which courses. Additionally, faculty understand how the school physically operates and make sure students are safe. The staff, Mr. Filch (caretaker), Hagrid (groundskeeper), Madam Hooch as Quidditch coordinator, Madam Pomfrey the nurse, and others provide oversight related to their specific areas of responsibility, as well.

While there is no organizational chart for Hogwarts, nor is there a professional development plan, or indication of regular supervisory meetings, the faculty and staff do consult and collaborate. This is made explicit through the coordinated safeguards for the Sorcerer’s Stone. This effort aligns with the OHR foundational outcome, “Recognize how networks in organizations play a role in how work gets accomplished” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 24).

There are a variety of other indicators of communication and teamwork in the text based on what students overhear, observe, and learn throughout the year. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone highlights examples of “campus protocols for responding to significant incidents… introductory motivational techniques… basic premises that underlie conflict… the relational roles partners, allies, and adversaries play in the completion of goals… constructive feedback…” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 24) and other OHR competencies.


Harry’s leadership journey provides examples that align with a variety of aspects of the student affairs leadership competency. These include individual leadership, leadership as a means to create organizational change, and the cultivation of leadership in others. An example of this final aspect of leadership in the book is Harry supporting his friend Neville who is being bullied by another student. Harry offers support and encourages Neville to advocate for himself.

Harry felt in the pocket of his robe and pulled out a chocolate frog, the very last one from the box that Hermione had given him… He gave it to Neville, who looked as though he might cry. “You’re worth twelve of Malfoy,” Harry said. (Rowling, 1997, p. 218).

By offering Neville a chocolate frog, Harry extends an offer of support and compassion. Harry is invested in making his friend feel better. This is not simply because Harry wants to support his friends, but he knows that empowering his housemates to see themselves as leaders results in a better community and progress toward shared goals.

Following the exchange above, Neville takes what he learned from Harry and employs it as a developing leader. When again faced with Malfoy’s bullying, Neville stammers in response, “I’m worth twelve of you, Malfoy” (Rowling, 1997, p.223). Though his voice shook, Neville owned his emerging leadership identity in his confrontation with Malfoy.

In student affairs graduate programs, students learn leadership through listening and counseling skills, administration, law and ethics, and a variety of other courses, as well as through their assistantships and field experiences. Students take that knowledge and pass it on to their undergraduate students, through training, workshops, supervision, advising, and mentoring.

Leadership begets leadership and we can see this in higher education every day. For example, a Residence Hall Association advisor holding one on one conversations with students has the opportunity to encourage and support students facing challenges. In addition to internalizing the encouragement and persevering, executive board members may extrapolate that knowledge and share it with peers to encourage them to be stronger leaders as well.

Finally, leadership can help achieve organizational goals and change organizations. At the end of the book, Gryffindor is behind in the House Cup challenge. As a result of their actions to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are awarded enough points to tie Slytherin for the win. In the end, Neville gives Gryffindor the final points they need to win the cup. Neville earned points because he reported his friends for going after the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Dumbledore said, “There are all kinds of courage… It takes a great deal for bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends,” (Rowling, 1997, p. 306). In essence, it was also Neville who saved Hogwarts and the wizarding world as much as Harry, Hermione, and Ron since without Neville’s information, the faculty would not have been able to save Harry after his confrontation with Voldemort. Neville helped Gryffindor as an organization as well as Hogwarts and the larger wizarding culture.

Social Justice and Inclusion

The Harry Potter series addresses social issues within the wizarding world that align with the Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI) competency. In the first book, one of the primary SJI issues relates to students’ (and staff members’) backgrounds. As Harry gets his school supplies before going to Hogwarts, he encounters Malfoy for the first time who is ranting about “Half-Bloods” (people who have one wizard parent and one non-magic or “muggle” parent) as well as people who come from families where both parents are muggles. Malfoy says, “I really don’t think they should let the other sort in, do you? They’re just not the same, they’ve never been brought up to know our ways… I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families,” (Rowling, 1997, p. 78). Malfoy’s contempt inspires Harry to want to keep his distance from this student.

While Harry’s parents were both wizards, he was raised by his muggle aunt and uncle after his parents’ deaths. Harry doesn’t know what this makes him in the eyes of people like Malfoy. Eventually, however, Harry learned he was not alone. “Harry was very relieved to find out that he wasn’t miles behind everyone else. Lots of people had come from Muggle families and, like him, hadn’t had any idea they were witches and wizards” (Rowling, 1997, p. 134-135). Harry is not alone in his anxiety about starting school without understanding things like the Hogwarts’ house system, house points, moving staircases, talking pictures, etc.

Hogwarts appears to be a school that centers acceptance and kindness as there are consequences for bullies. Additionally, Hogwarts provides space in class for students to ask questions and engage with one another. Prefects, the Hogwarts equivalents to RAs, also often explain the odd happenings of the castle to first-year students in an effort to help all students feel connected and a sense of belonging, regardless of their backgrounds and identities.

In this first book, the emerging relationships between students create opportunities for them to learn from one another. A basic example is students sharing their cultures through games and sport. In the text, Harry teaches Ron about soccer and Ron teaches Harry about Quidditch and wizard chess. Learning from peers is a key educational tool at Hogwarts and allows different perspectives and experiences to be celebrated.

Additionally, Harry, Hermione, and Ron bring different lived experiences to Hogwarts. Harry has tremendous monetary wealth but is really a first-generation student (his parents went to Hogwarts but died when he was an infant). As such, Harry has all the accompanying insecurity that first-gen students often experience.

Ron is a legacy. Not only have his parents attended the school, but he also has five older brothers who have or are attending Hogwarts. Ron has access to the “hidden curriculum” (Jackson, 1968) and knows things neither Harry nor Hermione know due to their status. That said, Ron’s family is clearly working class and does not have a lot of money.

Finally, Hermione, is the first in her family to go to Hogwarts. However, as the child of two dentists, she has parents who understand how to navigate academic settings. Not only did they go through high school and college, but they also completed professional school.

Other books in the series address SJI in deeper ways. For example, Malfoy calls Hermione a “Mudblood” in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  (Rowling, 1998) which initiates an intense exchange about background and class hierarchy. Hermione works to liberate house elves in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling, 2000). Additionally, nearly everything Dolores Umbridge does raises SJI concerns. A particularly disturbing example is her leadership of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission which involves the registration, interrogation, and imprisonment of muggle-born wizards as well as the surveillance of “pure-blood” (a disturbing term) wizards who supported muggle-borns (Rowling, 2007). However the initial groundwork for these and other cultural and systemic SJI issues is laid in the first book.

The books in this series—s any books—are not perfect. According to the competencies, one of the foundational outcomes of SJI is to “connect and build meaningful relationships with others while recognizing the multiple, intersecting identities, perspectives and developmental differences people hold” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 30). The Harry Potter series—particularly the earlier books—have been rightly criticized for a lack of diverse characters regarding race, sexual orientation, and other identities. This should be acknowledged and discussed if this book or any books in the series are used for courses or training.

Student Learning and Development

As one would expect of any school, Hogwarts provides multiple examples of the Student Learning and Development (SLD) competency. SLD centers “the ability to apply theory to improve and inform student affairs and teaching practices” (ACPA & NASPA 2015). As with AER, student affairs professionals and their work within this competency serves individuals, groups, and student affairs as a whole. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see examples of SLD in Harry’s acclimation to Hogwarts and its curriculum.

This can be seen in Harry’s interactions with Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts. Hagrid is a mentor for Harry, taking special care to support Harry through his transition into the wizarding world. Hagrid tells Harry he will “learn fast enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you’ll be just fine.” (Rowling, 1997, p. 86).

Formal student learning takes place in class. Students learn the complexity of coursework in Professor McGonagall’s Transfiguration class when they “realized they weren’t going to be changing the furniture into animals for a long time,” (Rowling, 1997, p. 134). The students “assess teaching, learning and training” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 32) in Defense Against the Dark Arts observing that, “Quirrell’s lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke,” (p. 134).

At the end of the book, as Harry is recovering from his battle with Voldemort, he talks with Dumbledore about a number of questions. In this way he is exploring his own developmental journey in the context of not only what he has experiences, but in the context of the history of Hogwarts and wizarding community. When he talks with Ron and Hermione he explains the ways that he believes Dumbledore fostered their development saying, “instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help” (Rowling, 1997, p. 302).

Ultimately, there is no student development theory embedded in the text. That said, it is possible to map different theories to the book just as we have mapped the competencies to it. Seeing how characters navigate transition and move through different stages of specific theories could be beneficial to students. Based on the choices students in the text make, we can examine their moral development, as well as their development related to wellness and involvement.


On the surface, technology looks significantly different in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone than it does in reality. Instead of emerging social media, online engagement platforms, video and audio recording and distribution technology, in the book we see things like wands, flying broomsticks, moving staircases, invisibility cloaks, and magic spells. That said, there are still similarities between the world of the books and our own. ACPA and NASPA emphasize technology as a competency for the advancement of student development and promotion of digital literacy. An example of this in the book is the Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror of Erised is a mirror that shows whoever is looking in it the thing that they desire most. Harry sees his family. Ron sees personal achievement. Professor Quirrell sees giving Voldemort the Sorcerer’s Stone. However, the true power of the mirror lies within understanding how it’s used. Once Harry finds the mirror, he begins visiting it regularly. At that point, Dumbledore explains that the mirror will only show you what you desire, it will not manifest it for you. Dumbledore says many people have wasted away staring into a mirror.

This connects to student affairs in two ways. First, this conversation reflects a digital literacy conversation with students. Dumbledore never takes away Harry’s agency. He tells Harry not to go looking for the mirror, but never makes the choice for him. As student affairs educators, digital literacy is about what we take away from mainstream, social, and other media and conversations need to be about finding reputable sources, thinking critically, and understanding our social media presence. The conversations do not and should not demand a student to act, think or behave a certain way.

Second, Dumbledore teaches Harry how to use the technology—what the mirror can and cannot do. Similarly, students and professionals need to learn to use emerging technology. A couple of years ago, few people were “Zoom fluent.” The world changed and we changed with it and learned to use that platform. The same is true as we (usually led by students) navigate emerging social media outlets, workplace technology, etc.

In the book, Harry’s technological literacy allowed him to link all the information he knew about the Mirror of Erised and the Sorcerer’s Stone to protect the stone from Voldemort. Therefore the mirror also represents a student development tool, in some ways like a final exam or an exercise in theory to see what the student has learned. Harry moves from finding the mirror to using the mirror to learning what the mirror does to using the mirror as an effective and important tool. Similarly, student affairs students and professionals move through the competencies to achieve increased levels of proficiency.

Advising and Supporting

Advising and supporting (A/S) is a professional competency embedded in the text, as well. While the faculty are advising and supporting (and sometimes reprimanding) the students consistently, another example of a character enacting this competency is Hagrid. Hagrid utilizes advising and supporting skills as Harry, Hermione, and Ron experience success and challenges. While he has helped Harry from the time he was an infant to getting his supplies for school, Hagrid continues to build on the relationship once Harry is at Hogwarts. He writes, “Dear Harry, I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around three? I want to hear all about your first week.” (Rowling, 1997, 135-136)

Hagrid offers space for Harry to share about his experiences which aligns with the foundational A/S outcomes beginning with “appropriately establishing interpersonal contact,” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 36). Additionally, this tea break is the same as a student check-in for student affairs educators. One-on-one settings are opportunities to cultivate trust. Hagrid invests time to build on the rapport and trust he has already built with Harry in previous encounters. Student affairs educators, according to the competencies, should strive to achieve these relationships and connections with their students, as well.

Finally, Hagrid provides a chance for Harry to reflect on his experience at Hogwarts. This allows Harry to process what he’s learning and it provides Hagrid a chance to continue to challenge Harry. College students (and new professionals) seek staff who will advise and support them “through direction, feedback, critique, referral, and guidance” (ACPA & NASPA, p. 36). All students face challenges, and by offering support as Hagrid does for Harry students are reminded they are not alone and can be provided resources and guidance.

The book also shows Hagrid offering critique to Harry such as when Harry complains about Professor Snape. Hagrid is quick to tell Harry that Professor Snape has no reason to hate him. The ability to encourage students to think differently about situations is part of the work of encouraging reflection embedded in the A/S competency.


Through the development of Harry, Hermione, and Ron during their first year at Hogwarts, practitioners can continue build upon this work and further map competencies in this specific book as well as throughout the Harry Potter series. Capitalizing on the books and movies which are already familiar to so many students and professionals since they are embedded in our culture provides an opportunity to look at examples of both student growth as well as student affairs practice. While personal reflection is essential for students and professionals, using this and other texts as case studies fosters other ways of learning and understanding that are less personal and potentially less risky for many students and new(er) professionals.

Reflection Questions

  1. What other examples of the competencies are represented in the Harry Potter books?
  2. What other books, films, or other forms of popular culture can be used to explore and understand professional competency areas in student affairs?
  3. How can using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or other texts to understand competencies be embedded in graduate programs, onboarding, and professional development?


ACPA: College Student Educators International & NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. (2015). ACPA and NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs educators.

Jackson, P. N. (1968). Life in Classrooms. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

New York Times (2022, April 3). New York Times Best Sellers.

Rowling, J. K. (1997) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastica.

Rowling, J. K. (1997) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastica.

Rowling, J. K. (1997) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Scholastica.

Rowling, J. K. (1997) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastica.

Michelle L. Boettcher (she/her) is an associate professor at Clemson University. She studies senses of belonging and community for students, staff, and faculty in higher education. She is, allegedly, a Slytherin.

Sydney Wein (she/her). Sydney is a Residence Hall Director at the University of Connecticut. Prior to working at the University of Connecticut, Sydney earned her master’s degree at Clemson University in Counselor Education, Student Affairs. Sydney is a proud member of Slytherin House.

Nikalette Zina (she/her) is a proud Hufflepuff Residence Life Coordinator at the University of South Carolina. She earned her Masters of Education from Clemson University and her Bachelors of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado. Nika is an avid reader, first picking up the Harry Potter book series in grade school. She enjoys looking at the way student affairs intersects with pop culture and making meaning from those connections.

Great Blog Series for Book Publishing, Mimi Benjamin & Jody Jessup-Anger

written by: Mimi Benjamin & Jody Jessup-Anger – ACPA Books Co-editors

If you’re thinking about a book project, a great resource about the various ins and outs of publishing a book is available from Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning. Jessie Moore and Jennie Goforth have created a series of “Publishing SoTL” blog posts (Publishing SoTL Archives – Center for Engaged Learning) that cover such topics as making a case for your book, editing collections, and marketing your book. While their blog focuses primarily on publishing Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) work, their tips are applicable to projects that might come forward through ACPA Books. For example, Moore (2022a) emphasized the importance of situating your work within the scholarship of your book’s focus. She stated, “When you can convincingly demonstrate that you understand the scholarly conversation you’re entering, it’s also easier to answer the ‘So what?’ question about your work. Why does your work matter in the context of this broader scholarly inquiry? What are you adding that moves the conversation forward, tests prior assumptions, or adds a previously hidden perspective?” (para. 3).

Often those who seek to publish with ACPA Books are compiling excellent work from a variety of authors in an edited collection. Moore (2022b) recommends inviting chapter proposals that include a 1-2 page proposal as well as a brief abstract so that you, as the editor, don’t need to spend extra time summarizing all the chapter proposals in the form of individual abstracts. She also commented on the common request of a sample chapter, “Many publishers request sample chapters as part of the proposal process. Think carefully about what you’ll share. Could you draft the introduction? Is there a chapter you’ll write that you could draft now? Could an established colleague contribute a chapter that they would be able to revise for another venue if the proposal doesn’t lead to a book contract?” (para. 10) Consider the time and effort required of someone contributing a sample chapter and think about how the work might be otherwise useful for the individual if the book proposal does not yield a contract. When the proposal does result in a contract, your work as the editor of the book will include keeping the project on track. Sometimes, as Moore (2022) noted, this requires difficult decisions, “If chapter authors aren’t able to meet deadlines or haven’t been able to revise a draft sufficiently to address feedback, you might have to make the difficult decision to cut their chapters” (para. 13). Because of this difficult role, we always recommend that editors are clear with authors at the beginning of the project about the possibility that a chapter may be cut.

Once the book is completed, Stylus and ACPA will work on getting the word out about your publication. But you have a role in this process as well, and Goforth (2021) identified some important questions to consider, such as where your book’s audience gets their news and what social media platforms they utilize. She also noted, “Your colleagues, your friends, your old college roommate—you have a lifetime of acquaintances who you now need to (strategically) notify about your book. Not only should you notify them, but you should also encourage them to help you promote your book by sharing it widely. This kind of self-promotion can feel awkward but think of it instead as sharing useful work with people who may really appreciate hearing about it.” (para. 5) Goforth also suggested promotion ideas such as sending an announcement to relevant listservs and adding the book to your e-signature.

We encourage you to review this blog series to get even more great ideas and information about publishing books. And as always, we welcome your questions and are happy to meet with individuals and teams who have ideas about potential ACPA Books projects.


Goforth, J. (2021, September 16). Academic publishing: Promoting your book. Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University.

Moore, J. L. (2022a, April 12). Academic book publishing: Making a case for your proposed book. Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University.

Moore, J. L. (2022b, February 15). Academic book publishing: Editing collections.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University.

Building Your Assessment Skills: Even When You Aren’t Giddy About Assessment, Barefoot

written by: Danielle Barefoot

The importance of assessment in Student Affairs has been an ongoing topic of discussion for articles, staff trainings, conference presentations, and courses for years with no indication of this conversation stopping anytime soon. While practitioner reactions to assessment can range from giddy excitement, to anxiety, to apathy, and everywhere in between, we continue to struggle as a profession to embed assessment into our practices. Establishing a mindset for and competency with assessment is a key skill that supports effective practices in Student Affairs.

Assessment has been an interest area of mine since I was undergraduate resident assistant in the early 2010s—before I was introduced to the world of Student Affairs as a potential profession. Since then, during my time as a Student Affairs practitioner, I have developed a reputation for being an “assessment person” due to things like my excitement in my 1st year of graduate school at convincing Dr. Boettcher to let our assessment class have a pizza party to demonstrate how post event assessments can be used to improve future events, and my current work at the University of Iowa where I support the culture of assessment within the Division of Student Life.

While I may be an outlier as a “giddy excitement” type of assessment person; I will never stop learning about and refining my skills for assessment. However, even if you are not someone who loves assessment, it can be enjoyable and relatively easy to collect useful information about your work in Student Affairs. Below are five strategies I have used to develop my own assessment skills and support others who are seeking to build a competency for assessment.

Strategies for Building Assessment Skills

  1. Understand your motivations and barriers when it comes to learning about assessment.

I suggest starting with two questions:

  • What motivates me when it comes to learning about assessment?
  • What are my internal and external barriers related to assessment?

In their book How Learning Works: 7 Research Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Ambrose et al. (2010) identified that “students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn” (p.4). Without motivation, you might struggle to sustain efforts to develop assessment skills.

Motivation is often broken into two categories: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations broadly come from self-identified values like “I do this because I find it fun, rewarding, or relaxing” whereas extrinsic motivation comes from external factors and values like “this is important to my employer” or “I need to do this to get a good grade.” (Maehr & Meyer, 1997; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Knowing what motivates you, can help you to build and sustain value in what you do to learn about assessment.

Building value is key to maintaining motivation but value alone is not sufficient. Nothing we do should be in a silo, so addressing internal and external barriers as well as motivations is critical to sustaining assessment learning. Internal and external barriers impact learning by decreasing efficacy expectancy, or the belief that you are capable of completing the tasks associated with learning (Bandura, 1997). By addressing both internal and external barriers, you can increase your self-efficacy related to learning about assessment.

To set yourself up for success in learning about assessment you need to see value in what you are doing and believe you are capable of learning. Focus on creating a plan that aligns to what will help you build value and self-efficacy. For example, I derive a lot of satisfaction in learning new things, solving issues, and my supervisor recognizing my work. However, my ADHD often creates barriers related to time, self doubt, and focus. When I try to learn new skills related to assessment, I build value by recognizing my excitement to learn something different, identifying a specific way I can use what I am learning to solve a problem I have at work, and sharing with my supervisor what I am learning. I address my barriers by reminding myself the time I am using to learn an assessment skill is an investment that will help me save time on work tasks in the future. Additionally, I work with a supervisor or peer to help me identify what my assessment focus is. Finally, I proactively ask my supervisor to help disrupt my self-doubt by reminding me of times I have successfully overcome challenges in the past. It can take some time to figure out what works best for you but aligning your development plan so it addresses your motivations and barriers will help you to sustain success.

  1. Do assessment on purpose and with purpose.

Start off by learning to differentiate between assessment and data collection. Assessment can be defined in many ways but in their book Assessment in Student Affairs: a Guide for Practitioners, Upcraft and Schuh (1996) described assessment in student affairs as “any effort to gather, analyze, and interpret evidence that describes institutional, departmental, divisional, or agency effectiveness” (p.18). Using this definition, assessment can be thought of as a way to use systematically collected evidence to make decisions and improve practices.

When I first dove into assessment, my understanding stopped after reading “any effort to gather data.” I spent time, energy, and effort gathering information without a purpose or a plan for how I was going to use the data. This often led to taxation and frustration for me and the people who were providing data. People spent time and effort sharing their stories and experiences, without me having a plan for how to use their information. I was not “closing the loop” on the assessment by reporting back on how the information that was collected was used. When I approached assessment with the idea that “everything has to be assessed, all the time” I set myself up with an expectation that I did not have the capacity to meet. Now I approach assessment with a mindset of “everything should be able to be assessed, and what makes sense for me to focus my assessment efforts on right now?”

Align your outcomes to the priorities and needs of your area and plan your assessment projects with the end goal in mind. Assessment priorities should be connected to the overall work of your area. By grounding your assessment in the values of your area you can help others connect how the assessment is important for their work. This can also help keep your assessment focused. I have been guilty of creating an assessment plan that collected data on things that I found interesting. While that isn’t an inherently negative thing, it resulted in time and effort spent collecting information was not actually used to make data informed decisions within my area.

Knowing the end goal of your assessment will provide you with clarity on the data you need, help you pick relevant assessment methods, set clear metrics for success, and identify opportunities for improvement. For example, the data needed to identify if a space met the accessibility needs of a student organization’s event can look very different than the data needed to measure student learning. How I approach those two goals does not need to be the same.

Knowing my end goal, also helped me understand assessments did not just need to showcase positive data. Sometimes an assessment will show that an initiative or strategy was not effective. If the end goal of the assessment is not predefined it can be tempting to change the goal to show only good things. Ultimately, getting “bad news” or “bad data” when conducting an assessment is an opportunity to clarify and improve our work. As a field whose goals and values are rooted in student success, continuing to spend time, effort, and money on strategies that are not meeting student needs is counterproductive. While it can be easy to internalize disappointing data as something that lessens the value of work someone put into an initiative, using data for process improvement allows you to build value and buy-in to the work and initiatives of a department.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are a ton of assessment tools and methods already developed that are effective. If something that already exists can be adapted to meet the needs of your assessment, connect with who developed it to see if you can utilize it. Additionally, if the data you need has already been collected, see if you can use that data instead of using resources to duplicate information. Later in this article, I provide a few resources to get you started.

Be realistic about capacity when choosing assessment methods. Choosing an assessment method for which you have both the time and resources (yours and your stakeholders) is crucial for successful assessment practices. Assessment is not happening within a vacuum so be mindful of what you and others need to attend to. For example, planning a focus group that falls during finals week might not be feasible in terms of getting participants, or doing a space audit for every restroom on campus by yourself in a single week likely will not give you the time to complete other aspects of your work.

  1. Look for opportunities to build assessment into the work you are already doing.

One of the biggest struggles I faced as an entry level professional when trying to figure out how to prioritize assessment was I could never seem to find the time to assess while completing all of my other work. How was I supposed to do assessment when I needed to respond to a student in crisis, schedule a team meeting and complete my assigned tasks for one of my committees? What about when I had to meet one on one with a staff member or (gently) respond to a family member to explain why it was a FERPA violation for me to answer their question without making them feel dismissed? Oh, and then I also need to feed myself, do chores at home, attend to personal hygiene, and take my dog for a walk.

Managing my day-to-day life and work while completing assessment seemed unmanageable until I started integrating assessment practices into the work I was already doing. This shift challenged me to rethink what it meant to do assessment and to be more strategic in my approach to assessment. Ultimately, this came down to three strategies: looking beyond surveys and focus groups for assessment, identifying classroom assessment techniques that could be applied to my work, and leveraging the systems and technology I had at my disposal to complete assessment.

An example of this is practice was changing the way I assessed the growth and development of my student staff throughout the course of my second year as a residence hall coordinator. Going into my second year as a supervisor, I wanted to assess my supervision. I tied this to my professional development plan and over the summer I outlined what learning outcomes my staff should achieve over the course of the year. I then planned out an entire semester’s worth of staff meeting and one on one agendas to include activities to help my team learn. I went into staff training energized and excited to execute this vision and confident that my preplanning would set me up to be successful.

As the pace of the semester picked up, I started losing momentum and shifting my plans. While I was still doing the development activities with my staff, I was not measuring the impact of the activities by sending the post surveys or other assessments I had planned. My staff (and I) were tired. I felt bad asking them to do another thing and was overwhelmed at the idea of going through any data I would collect.

I remember feeling frustrated during a one on one with my supervisor because I did not feel like I could show him the growth I was seeing in my staff. He challenged me to think about how I could measure growth outside of sending a survey to my staff and encouraged me to look into classroom assessment techniques for measure learning. Over our winter session, I revamped my supervision plan to find ways to integrate classroom assessment techniques and leverage technology into my assessment plans. Instead of sending a survey out after an activity I measured learning by giving my staff the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through things like case studies, peer teaching, and one-minute papers. I also brought reflection practices into my one on ones with students. Instead of asking them if they were connecting what they were learning in their classes to their work on campus they reflected on and named what they were connecting. To document this assessment, I used our survey platform to develop a checklist for myself so I could track if my staff member did something connected to my learning outcomes.

These shifts completely transformed my approach to supervision and assessment. Since I was already doing one on ones, keeping notes and sharing meeting minutes from our one on ones and staff meetings, building classroom assessment practices into that work no longer felt like an extra task I had to do.  Instead of asking my staff what they learned, they were given opportunities to demonstrate, apply, and reflect on their learning. Additionally, because I utilized the technology to document their learning, I saved time and had explicit examples I could go back to share their learning with my supervisor and individual staff members. This led to a sense of accomplishment for me and my staff as we closed out the year. Additionally, I found that these shifts helped me with other tasks that came up like writing end of the year evaluations or letters of recommendation for my staff.

Two books, I found especially helpful in identifying and applying classroom assessment techniques are Lang’s (2016) Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning and McKeachie and Svinicki’s (2010) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Both of these texts offered practical activities and examples that could be adapted to my work at a Student Affairs practitioner.

  1. Prioritize professional development connected to assessment.

The more I have learned about assessment over the past few years, the more I realize I have much more  to learn. Luckily, there are a plethora of resources designed to help Student Affairs practitioners continue to learn about assessment. In order to develop your assessment skills, it is important to prioritize assessment into your professional development. While professional development does not need to look the same for every person, there are relevant assessment-focused development opportunities for any practitioner. I would recommend starting by looking at what is offered on your own campus. If your institution has an assessment and research, or teaching and learning center, they might offer workshops, trainings, and consultations that can help you learn new assessment skills. Outside of your own campus, below are three suggestions for places that can provide assessment related professional development.

Professional Organization: Many of our professional organizations (at the national and regional levels) have commissions or committees dedicated to assessment. Throughout the year they might offer webinars, articles, institutes, and other development opportunities.

Assessment Networks: There are many networks of assessment professionals on social media  and other platforms that can provide assessment support. For example, Student Affairs Assessments Leaders is a network of assessment professionals who seek “to improve the quality of assessment practice within student affairs by creating a robust and active network of student affairs assessment professionals, experts, and faculty, who are committed to sharing knowledge and resources, identifying and advancing critical conversations, and producing and distributing high quality training materials and research related to student affairs assessment.” (Student Affairs Assessment Leaders, 2017) This network has numerous resources you can utilize.

Online Courses: If you enjoy online learning check out platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, and Coursera to see if they have courses you can use to build your assessment skills. I’ve used platforms like these to learn skills with excel, data visualization, basic statistics, choosing a good assessment method and survey design.

  1. Find a partner

As my final tip, I cannot overstate the value of having a person or a network of people who will support you as you build your assessment skills and practices. Whether that person takes on the role of a co-developer, accountability partner, cheerleader, or mentor, do not do assessment by yourself. Just like it is a bad idea to go swimming alone, have someone with you when you dive into assessment. Below are some specific ways having a partner has helped me develop as an assessment practitioner.

Peers have helped me to identify and address the implicit and explicit bias I have that impacts how I develop, evaluate and make meaning of assessment. Having someone who will challenge me, ask why, and push me outside of my own lens has been crucial to my success in assessment.

I have learned new ways to do things. Like most things there is more than one way to approach assessment. Learning about different techniques from peers with different backgrounds, training, and knowledge has helped me to become more efficient with assessment. For example, a few years ago I was asked to code a large amount of qualitative data. I approached this by spending about 30 hours of work coding all 12,000 responses to identify themes. About a month later I was taught how to get a representative sample with large data sets. I went from needing to code 12,000 responses to less than 1,000 responses. Learning this technique has saved me time that I could then use to do other aspects of my job.

Finally, finding an assessment partner has introduced me to a large community of professionals. Some of these folks are considered “assessment people” like me, but many of them have expertise in other areas of Student Affairs. That community has helped me to develop as a practitioner in areas within and outside of the scope of assessment.


Ultimately, good assessment makes for better practices in other areas of your work. Regardless of how you react when you hear the word “assessment”, everyone can be an effective assessment practitioner. It really is okay to not love assessment. However, not loving something is not an excuse for someone to not meet their expected competency within the area. We still need to understand the value of assessment and how it is an integral part of work in Student Affairs. Assessment practices within Student Affairs are not going away. Start small as you build your assessment skills and do not let the idea of a “perfect” assessment plan get in the way of completing a good assessment plan. My hope is that regardless of how you feel about assessment, you are able to take some strategies from this article to develop your own skills. If there is any way I can provide support for you in your journey to developing assessment competencies please do not hesitate to reach out. I look forward to opportunities to learn together.


Danielle Barefoot currently serves as the Assessment and Outcomes Coordinator at the University of Iowa where she coordinates assessment within the Division of Student Life and University Housing and Dining. When not working on assessment projects she enjoys connecting with other professionals, annoying her cat, and learning new things.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based Principles for smart teaching. Jossey Bass.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman and Company.

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning . Jossey-Bass.

Maehr, M., & Meyer, H. (1997). Understanding motivation and schooling: Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go. Educational Psychology Review, 9(4), 371-384.

Scinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and univeristy teachers. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Student Affairs Assessment Leaders. (2017). Retrieved from

Upcraft, L. M., & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. Jossey-Bass.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 68-81.