Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

LEARNING TO TRANSFORM: Implications for Centering Social Justice in a Student Affairs Program

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

LEARNING TO TRANSFORM: Implications for Centering Social Justice in a Student Affairs Program

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is to investigate the educative spaces that best support the devel- opment of critically engaged student affairs practitioners; professionals that will model socially just practices in cocurricular set- tings. Further, the authors hope that through this investigation we will be able to theorize a graduate-level curricular framework that pos- sesses the potential for wide-spread transfor- mative learning on college campuses. This work advances the research on social justice in student affairs in that it provides a curricu- lar focus at the disciplinary level. Much of the literature investigates socially just efforts within the field of student affairs, highlight- ing the work of practitioners (Edwards, 2007; Kerr & Hart-Steffes, 2012; Reason, Broido, Davis, & Evans, 2005; Watt, 2007). Alterna- tively, this article takes up student affairs as an academic discipline, and the ways social justice is advanced therein.

The current study came about through the telling and retelling of a story, an experience shared by two of the five researcher-partici- pants, a constant retelling to self and others in an effort to grapple with "What happened?"

and "What's happening?" This project did not begin in a coffee shop with a conference call, scholarly texts, and determination (although these were sure to follow). Rather, the concept was born in a home, over dinner, with good friends, doing the things people do when they are building community and bridges to under- standing.

It started with me just trying to think about how these ... three women from three very different locations in the world came to be friends ... came to find a place where we could engage and exchange in very different deep kinds of, very personal, very loving ways with each other, which centered around an experience in an academic program. That was the impetus that was the foundation of our relationship ... that we met in this pro- gram and the program itself created the space for us to kind of [learn how to] engage each other on that level.

As time passed following this original experience over dinner, one of the researcher- participants began to listen more intently to the conversations taking place around her within her student affairs program, the inter- actions and exchanges among seasoned, young, and budding student affairs profes- sionals. She realized that the experience she was having, the moments of revelation and progress that were almost effortlessly break- ing down barriers and bringing people to new and evolved places in their social interactions with "Others" (Minh-ha, 1989), was also hap- pening in the lives of many of her colleagues. She also began to recognize how those con- versations impacted her professional practice as she advised undergraduate students and developed the student program she led. This observation eventually led to a more intimate conversation between five researcher-partici- pants, all students in her student affairs gradu- ate program, again from five "very different locations in the world."


While time will not permit a more extensive excavation of our life histories, we will say of the three friends present at the original dinner, one is a White woman from a middle-class nuclear family in the rural South. Another is an African American woman from a poor working-class background reared by extended relatives in the rural South. The third friend is a first-generation Vietnamese American woman from a working-class background in the South. The five researcher-participants included in the focus group discussion for this study are the White and African American woman from the original dinner, a Trinidadian woman from a middle-class background, an African American woman from a middle-class single-parent household in the Southwest, and an African American woman from a middle- class blended family in the South.

In addition to our varying familial back- grounds, we all possess significantly different disciplinary and professional backgrounds; hailing from theater, literary studies, business administration, math education, and athletic training undergraduate and graduate programs. …

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