Back to Basics: How the Cycle of Socialization and Liberation Can Be Used in Residential Programming and Curriculum | Samuel & Stewart

written by: Kumi Samuel & Terah J. Stewart, PhD


As a graduate student and faculty member in a student affairs program, we both recognize the importance of theory informing practice and practice informing theory. Several scholars have emphasized the importance of theory-to-practice integration in student affairs, noting that it can lead to more intentional and reflective approaches to supporting students (Kuh, 2009; Pope & Reynolds, 2017). We also recognize that a plethora of literature can inform our work with college students as student affairs professionals. Incorporating theoretical frameworks into student affairs practice can improve student outcomes (Schuh & Gansemer-Topf, 2010). After engaging in a project for an equity, diversity, and inclusion course, we discussed the importance of going back to basics or social justice foundations, as it were. Samuel decided to use the cycle of socialization and liberation to frame his work with resident advisors within a residence hall context and, by extension, their residents when considering ways to improve hall programming and events. In this article, we briefly outline the cycles and their components; then, we discuss the way (author 1) advanced the framework within his work and how the lessons he learned can, in turn, inform future scholarship and theory (theory to practice to theory). We will conclude with a few discussion questions and personal reflections.

The Cycles of Socialization and Liberation

According to Harro’s (2000) theory of socialization, individuals undergo various stages of institutional socialization throughout their lives. Social structures and power dynamics influence these phases, altering people’s perceptions of their identity and agency (Harro, 2000). The cycle begins when we are born into the world. Parents, relatives, and teachers tend to be the first parties to socialize a person, and then socialization occurs institutionally and culturally through schools, churches, language, and media (Harro, 2010). These socializations are enforced with reward and punishment, which can result in dissonance, anger, and guilt (Harro, 2000).

For example, a young person born and assigned female at birth may be socialized and disciplined into girlhood first at home by the family because it is the first mode of socialization. The family tells them to wear pink and play with dolls. In my (author’s) experience growing up, girls are socialized toward careers in social sciences and the liberal arts, while their fellow boys are socialized to be scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Eccles & Wang (2016) reported that gender divide is still very persistent in many areas, most prominently participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, as there are many barriers for women who enter these STEM fields. As individuals are socialized through systems like the family, church, and school, one must consciously decide to disrupt and break away from these socializations (Harro, 2000). Individuals finally take action by education, interrupting systems of oppression, asking questions, doing nothing and not causing any change in our lives, or socially and continuously fulfilling the status quo of our socialization.

Similarly, as propounded by Harro (2000), the theory of liberation runs counter to the cycle of socialization and catapults people to empowerment by encouraging them to disrupt systems of socialization and be liberated. As people come to a critical understanding of oppression and their roles in this systemic phenomenon, they seek new paths for creating social change and taking themselves toward empowerment or Liberation (Harro, 2000). The model of liberation consists of seven stages. Waking up, Getting ready, Reaching out, Building community, Coalescing stage, Creating change, and Maintaining. The characteristics that make up the core of the Cycle of Liberation are what hold it together. These characteristics include self-love, care, hope, joy, support, and security.

Incorporating The Theory in a Residential Context

Hall directors can create a sense of collective action and empowerment among residents by supporting resident assistants (RAs) to plan hall and house events that address oppressive issues and promote equity within the residence hall community. In considering Harro’s (2000) model of liberation, I (author 1) was enthused by the reaching out stage as an assistant hall director. I noticed that RAs typically plan programs and events that do not prioritize students with minoritized identities. From my observation, most students with these identities were absent from these programs and events. I saw the need to bridge this gap and make these students part of the programs, encouraging my RAs to contact students from minoritized identities who were left out of hall events and solicit ideas for events that would bring them on board to socialize, share their experiences with other students, and create an inclusive community.

This plan yielded positive results as many marginalized students provided brilliant ideas that were later modified into house events. Many of the formerly excluded students now attend house programs and events based on their ideas, have conversations, and share their experiences in all of these programs. This has created a supportive community that acknowledges the different identities and appreciates their presence. As noted in the theory of liberation, this is how reaching out might look, and this is why I believe it contributed to the success of the programs that included minoritized students who had their ideas generated into these programs because it focused on issues of interest to the students.

Another stage of the model I have put into practice is Coalescing, which I practice through educating others. We achieve Coalescing by organizing, planning, educating, and motivating members of the uninvolved public (Harro, 2000). Through education, we can explore our identities and support others to explore and understand their identities. This process helps us understand how systems of oppression and dominance are interwoven with through socialization. Additionally, Coalescing teaches us how to consciously disrupt these socializations.

To educate and motivate the RA staff to make conscious efforts to disrupt their socializations, I presented topics like Identity Matters, Implicit Bias, and Socialization Through Multinational Perspectives for RAs and hall directors. These presentations provided opportunities for staff to engage in discussions about their identities and socialization and learn about the experiences of diverse groups on the staff. This has been very helpful to staff in unpacking their socialization, dominant, and non-dominant identities, as they are now conscious about program planning and how to include people of minoritized identities to engage in conversations and change the stereotypes others have about them. I have also observed their enthusiasm to learn more about diverse groups to break away from their preconceived notions and biases about other identities. Some RAs are now curious about the cultural diversity of their houses. They are open and approach me with questions on how to reach out and build inclusive communities, which we process together and implement in their programs.

Implications and Application

Harro’s (2000) theory of Socialization and Liberation proposes that individuals must undergo a process of critical reflection and action to overcome oppression and achieve Liberation (Harro, 2000). Within the housing/residence life context, these theories suggest that hall directors create opportunities for students to reflect critically and be empowered to challenge systemic oppression. These opportunities should be well-facilitated to foster effective liberation through adequate reflection and conscious critical analysis of their socialization, experiences, and unfair systems of oppression.

Housing professionals and other practitioners can apply Harro’s (2000) liberation theory by including critical consciousness activities in their programs and meetings through counternarratives, motivating staff to ask thought-provoking questions, and encouraging students to think critically about social issues and how they relate to their own experiences. This will help staff understand and implement inclusive techniques for transformational change. Hall directors, for example, can establish spaces for students to talk and reflect on issues of power, privilege, and oppression and encourage them to devise approaches for resisting these structures of oppression (Adams et al., 2022). Designing programs and initiatives that reflect critical concepts in each stage would be a great start, similar to how the author leveraged reaching out and coalescing to think about their work within the department and with students and staff.


While we focus on Harro’s (2000) theory of Socialization and Liberation, our goal is to highlight the importance of critical reflection and action in challenging systems of oppression. Theory can help us advance critical equity and justice work within student affairs. In current contexts where assaults on diversity, equity, and inclusion on local, state, and national levels are commonplace, now is the time to be ever vigilant about the way theory can inform practice and, in fact, give practitioners and scholars framing to understand the current moment we find ourselves in. Social justice foundations such as Harro’s theories are but one example. We hope that scholars and practitioners (and scholar-practitioners) can work together in ways similar to how we have to advance the work of equity and justice in student affairs. While there are voluminous pieces of research, scholarship, theories, and framework, consider going back to basics; there is still so much they have to offer.

Reflection Questions

  1. When considering ‘the basics’ of social justice education, what other theories and frameworks might practitioners return to when trying to advance social justice and inclusion in their work?
  2. What are the implications of embracing the cycle of liberation for promoting inclusion and empowerment within residential hall environments?
  3. What are the potential challenges and opportunities associated with incorporating the cycle of socialization and liberation into the curriculum of residence life programs?


Adams, M., Bell, L. A., Goodman, D. J., Shlasko, D., Briggs, R. R., & Pacheco, R. (Eds.). (2022). Teaching for diversity and social justice. Taylor & Francis.

Eccles, J.S. & Wang, M.T.(2016). What motivates females and males to pursue careers in mathematics and science? International Journal of Behavioral Development,40,100–106. doi:0.1177/0165025415616201

Harro, B. (2000a). The cycle of liberation. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfield, R. Castaneda, H. Hackman, M. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (pp. 463–469). New York, NY: Routledge.

Harro, B. (2000b). The cycle of socialization. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfield, R. Castaneda, H. Hackman, M. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (pp. 16-21). New York, NY: Routledge.

Kuh, G. D. (2009). What Student Affairs Professionals Need to Know About Student Engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683–706.

Pope, R. L., & Reynolds, A. L. (2017). Multidimensional identity model revisited: Implications for Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 2017(157), 15–24.

Schuh, J. H., & Gansemer-Topf, A. M. (2010). The role of student affairs in student learning assessment. NILOA Occasional Paper, 7, 1-14.

About the Authors

Kumi Samuel (he/him) is a second-year international student in Iowa State University’s master’s program in student affairs. His academic and professional careers have been devoted to pursuing his passion for assisting students to succeed academically and professionally. In 2020, he graduated with a Bachelor of Education from the University of Cape Coast (Ghana). He works as an assistant hall director in the Department of Residence at Iowa State University as a graduate assistant right now. Kumi Samuel is eager to pursue a doctorate program, he is interested in studying the experiences of international men of color faculty and staff in higher education to fulfill his dream of becoming a faculty member in higher education. He is dedicated to becoming a lifelong learner in higher education and is ready to grow personally and professionally.

Terah J. Stewart, PhD (he/him) is an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at Iowa State University. His research and writing focus on people, populations, and ideas that are hypermarginalized and/or have stigmatized identities including: college students engaged in sex work, fat students on campus, identity-based student activism. He also does conceptual and empirical work on antiblackness in non-black communities of color. His work often centers critical disruptive onto-epistemological frameworks and theories to destabilize dominant ways of knowing and being; including Black/endarkened feminist, womanist, and afropessimist perspectives. His research and writing has appeared in Action Research, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, Journal Committed to Scholarship on Race and Ethnicity, and the Journal of College Student Development. Dr. Stewart is the co-author of Identity-Based Student Activism: Power and Oppression on College Campuses (2020, Routledge); and author of Sex Work on Campus (2022, Routledge).