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Summary and 3 questions for students with answer for me

Alex C. Lange and D-L Stewart
tudent affairs practitioners facilitate students’ learning and educational outcomes during
postsecondary education. To understand which practices have maximal effects, researchers
have studied particular practices and the net effects of their contributions to student
success (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005, 2010). The outcome of this research has
been the promulgation of a set of 11 high-impact practices (Kuh et al., 2010) that have gained
national attention in setting practice and policy agendas (Finley & McNair, 2013). In this
chapter, we introduce these high-impact practices and why they should be critiqued from a
critical theoretical lens. In addition, we focus on the implications of these critical reformulations
for student affairs practice, taking into consideration the theoretical constructs discussed in Part
Two of this volume. To begin, we acknowledge how we each enter this conversation.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Entry Points
Patel (2016) discussed the responsibility of researchers to be not only “fluent in existing research”
but also responsible for “our ontological entry-points and impacts” (p. 57): Why us? Why this?
Why now? We extend this to practitioners as well, whose work—whether consciously or
unconsciously—is grounded in one’s personal assumptions and informal theories about
education, students, and development (Parker, 1977).
Critical and poststructural theorizing has been the place I (Alex) continue to find myself.
Like hooks (1994), when I was without a sense of home or of myself growing up, I found
“sanctuary” in theorizing. It was a place where possibility existed more so than in my lived
experience. As I am someone at the border of identities both dominant and contested, theorizing
in the borderlands (Abes, 2009; Anzaldúa, 1987) allows me to imagine, name, and dream about
my epistemologies, modes of being, and professional work in life-giving ways. My queerness,
transness, and multiraciality continue to be contested objects of discourse and reality. For me,
critical and poststructural paradigms frame my positionality as a scholar and practitioner who
dares to make bold, public disruptions of “established” knowledges in postsecondary education. I
want to trouble how we as a field come to amass knowledges (Gonzalez & Pasque, 2017) for a
greater goal beyond intellectual exercises.
These modes of thinking have helped me destabilize dominant ideas of student development
work. My time as an LGBTQ+ resource center professional helped me use critical and
poststructural theories to critically queer my work. Critically queered praxis helps me trouble
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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ideas of student success metrics, which are often limited to persistence and graduation. For me,
student success also includes dimensions of wellness, connection, and support. Rather than being
unidirectional in application from educator to student, educational practice should be versatile,
blurring the dualities of educator and student, such that practitioners might occupy multiple
roles over time rather than be limited to one particular positioning (Sheldon, 2016).
Like Alex, I (D-L) have found critical and poststructural theory to be a site of liberation,
empowerment, and visibility. Growing up in Harlem, New York City, provided me early
exposure to beauty salon and street corner critical race theorizing. I was encouraged to see
oppression as a structure by the Afrocentrists selling books on 125th Street. I heard the rallying
cry of Black feminism through the biblically intoned wisdom of my pastoring and churchfounding grandmother and the Black women who ran the holiness churches in which I grew up.
It would be years later, during undergraduate and graduate school at Kalamazoo College and
The Ohio State University, respectively, that I would be introduced to the formal academic
language defining my childhood experiences. I committed myself to pursuing a radically
democratic vision (West, 2017) of education that centered minoritized peoples’ experiences and
their inherent wisdom and possibilities.
Through such paradigmatic frameworks, I seek to push the boundaries of what can be and
what can be done in higher education. Moreover, I join Alex in unlearning dominant ideals of
educational practice and destabilizing presumably fixed knowledges. Embracing my
Blackdisabledqueertrans* identities, as a valid standpoint and critical poststructural lens on the
world, has led me to unflinchingly engage a critical praxis that asks “why” as an entry point to
alternative vision(s) and release of assumptions that reinscribe oppressive structures and systems.
I giddily turn things on their head out of the dogged belief that we are not tied to what we once
knew to be true or to one vision of truth. From these standpoints, we turn to our examination of
high-impact practices.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
High-Impact Practices
Kuh et al. (2005) broadly defined student success as inclusive of “satisfaction, persistence, and
high levels of learning and personal development” (p. xiv). According to Kuh (2008), there is
one practice that institutions can do to enhance student learning and success:
Make it possible for every student to participate in two high-impact activities during his or her [sic] undergraduate
program, one in the first year, and one taken later in relation to the major field. The obvious choices for first-year
students are first-year seminars, learning communities, and service learning. (p. 21)
These high-impact activities comprise 11 institutional initiatives that Kuh et al. (2010)
determined were tested across a broad variety of institutions and found to be applicable to
students of many backgrounds (Kuh, 2008). These practices are (a) first-year seminars and
experiences, (b) common intellectual experiences, (c) learning communities, (d) writing-intensive
courses, (e) collaborative assignments and projects, (f) undergraduate research, (g) diversity and
global learning, (h) ePortfolios, (i) service-learning and community-based learning, (j)
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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internships, and (k) capstone courses and projects.
Kuh has noted, independently (Kuh, 2008) and with colleagues (Kuh et al., 2010), that these
practices have been practiced by some postsecondary institutions for some groups of students at
some times. Instead of this haphazard, unsystematic approach, these scholars argued that a
systematic, institution-wide approach is necessary to support the learning and success of the
majority of students within and across institutional sectors. Based on their research with
institutions, including two- and four-year colleges, public and private universities, and
predominantly white and minority-serving institutions (Kuh et al., 2010), these 11 practices
demonstrated the highest impact on student learning and success in college and the capacity for
scaling up to the general population of students (Kuh & O’Donnell, 2013).
These practices are mobilized differently across institutions based on their unique norms and
climates—they are not meant simply to be adopted cookie-cutter style from one institution to
the next. However, there are some common foci and identifiable emphases across the set. The
greatest emphasis is on written expression. From the different styles of coursework to
undergraduate research and other documentation of learning (e.g., ePortfolios, credit-bearing
internships), writing is the dominant mode of expression. Following the emphasis on writing is a
strong focus in more than half of the high-impact practices on cognitive and intellectual
development, as well as on problem-solving and practical application. Of notable emphasis is the
synthesis or integration across the formal curriculum. Receiving little explicit attention are
curricular and cocurricular collaboration, learning about diversity and inclusion (and no focus on
equity or justice), and community engagement.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Critiques of High-Impact Practices
What the 11 high-impact practices do and do not emphasize is itself worthy of critique. The
focus on cognition and intellectualism that has become entrenched in U.S. postsecondary
education has been bemoaned by Kuh, Shedd, and Whitt (1987). To emphasize written
expression so heavily leaves us wondering about the place of the arts in such a curriculum. In
addition, higher education scholars have critiqued institutions’ consistent and persistent
lackluster attention to and recognition of the import of the cocurricular experience (i.e., student
affairs) ( ACPA: College Student Educators International, 1996; Kuh et al., 1987); the lack of
integrated and explicit focus on issues of diversity and inclusion, let alone equity and justice
(Stewart, 2017); and the uncritical heralding of the benefits of service-learning (Gilbride-Brown,
2008; Jones, LePeau, & Robbins, 2013; Jones, Robbins, & LePeau, 2011, Spring).
A host of institutions employ high-impact practices, making decisions to implement these
particular programs and practices over others (Johnson & Stage, 2018). If other practices are not
empirically proven to work like high-impact practices, institutions may not equitably fund them,
and those practices may receive less attention from practitioners and policymakers. Though the
quality and method of implementation of high-impact practices are essential (Kuh & Kinzie, ),
the exclusion of what are then perceived as non–high-impact practices may close off researchers
and practitioners to new possibilities of educational strategies that may also have high impact.
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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We note that there are other questions about high-impact practices: For whom are these
practices high impact (Kilgo, 2016), and how are these practices enacted in ways to benefit all
students? In the initial conceptualization of high-impact practices, Kuh (2008) noted a
“compensatory effect” (p. 19). This compensatory effect suggested that high-impact practices
may be particularly beneficial to those who are Black, Latinx, and academically unprepared (as
defined by low ACT scores) regarding GPA and persistence from first year to second year (Finley
& McNair, 2013; Kuh, 2008). Although some research has supported these findings (Finley &
McNair, 2013), other scholars have suggested that racism and classism can be at play in the
delivery of high-impact practices, which may lead to lower participation from these groups
(Kilgo, 2016; Kilgo, Sheets, & Pascarella, 2014).
Bringing Critical Theory to Bear on High-Impact Practices
Though these practices were developed to play a part in addressing the opportunity gap
(Pendakur, 2016) among subsets of students in higher education, we assert that a critical
theoretical review of the practical implications of high-impact practices reveals other concerns
related to student development. This approach requires that practices always be under
examination and about the “process rather than a singular point of” success (Spade, 2015, p. 2).
Therefore, we now analyze high-impact practices through a critical and poststructural
paradigmatic lens. We invoke four tenets from critical and poststructural theoretical scholarship
in this analysis: (a) decolonization (Patel, 2014), (b) redistribution of power (Fraser & Honneth,
2004), (c) validation of multiple forms of knowledge and counternarratives (Ladson-Billings &
Ladson-Billings, 1998), and (d) pervasiveness of power and oppression (Foucault, 1980; Giroux,
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
When used uncritically and exclusive of Native peoples, decolonization rhetoric “recenters
whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future”
(Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 3). As discussed by Salis Reyes and Tauala in chapter 5, Indigenous and
decolonizing paradigms require material change and disruption of settler constructs. These settler
constructs include the attitudes, dispositions, and decision-making frameworks that guide theory
in modernist constructs (Patel, 2014).
The focus on cognition and written expression in the high-impact practices as noted
previously reflects settler constructs that deprioritize a holistic approach to people and their
relationship to each other, to nature, and to the land. Although some institutions may allow oral
performances in students’ ePortfolios, the emphasis on writing and cognitive engagement is
carried throughout the high-impact practices regardless. These skills are unquestionably valued in
the cultural and economic marketplace. However, the uncritical promulgation of these values
maintains settler coloniality. For example, knowledge transmitted orally by Indigenous peoples,
instead of in writing, has been disregarded as less meaningful and less intelligent than the written
knowledge of colonial empires.
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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The settler colonial disposition of the high-impact practices is even more apparent in its
cursory attention to community-based engagement. As our earlier discussion noted, scholars have
critiqued some enactments of service-learning and community-based learning (Gilbride-Brown,
2008; Jones et al., 2011; Spring, 2013). An anticolonial approach (Patel, 2014) to communitybased learning would prioritize relationship building with the community and then center the
knowledge and wisdom that preexists in the community. This approach would put students in
the position of the ones who learn and receive assistance from the community. There is no more
egregious display of settler colonialism than to enter a community and presume to be able to
assist and help. Service-learning and community-based learning have been recommended as a
high-impact practice without the requisite critique of what it means to position those with more
access, higher status, and greater privilege as the doers of service to those positioned as lesser and
in need. As the letter from the Indians of the Six Nations (1744) to the College of William and
Mary illustrated, useful and practical education is taught by the people whose lived experiences
have procured them wisdom.
Despite a heavy emphasis on synthesis and integration of knowledge, the high-impact
practices say little about the responsibilities of people in community with each other. As Salis
Reyes and Tauala noted in chapter 5, Indigenous and decolonizing paradigms emphasize
relationality and stress wholeness and balance. Rather than merely promoting cognitive
connections, practitioners can promote connections between students and the land and
nonhuman animals. This is where student affairs professionals—nearly absent from the highimpact practices—have expertise that academicians often do not (Magolda, 2005). Practitioners
can assist students in making connections to how they are part of a whole system that wants to
support them and that helps them find a balance between their needs and others’ needs.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Redistribution of Power
Critical race theories (Harris & Poon, chapter 2), intersectionality (Wijeyesinghe, chapter 3), and
critical feminist theories (Robbins, chapter 4) draw attention particularly to power between
individuals and systems. These and other power-conscious frameworks discussed by Linder
(2018) can assist practitioners in thinking through various forms of their power and how
practitioners are gatekeepers of that power. However, as a whole, the 11 high-impact practices do
little to nothing to acknowledge or disrupt the power imbalance between the institution and its
High-impact practices reflect institutional power in two fundamental ways. First, data about
students but not data from students informed the designation of high-impact practices. Using a
postpositivist paradigm, researchers have solely used quantitative data to support the inherent
value and effectiveness of high-impact practices. Data from students—collected through
qualitative methodologies, such as phenomenology, narrative, ethnography, and case study—
could either support, challenge, or nuance the effectiveness of high-impact practices and
students’ access to them during their undergraduate years. Power is at work here in that
institutional administrators and researchers have determined that the evidence of effectiveness
and value lies wholly in the repositories of institutional databases instead of in the lived
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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experiences of students.
Second, the entirety, save one (internships not taken for credit), of the activities proposed as
high-impact practices are determined, structured, and assessed by faculty, not students. How can
faculty work with and alongside students to structure courses and curriculum, as well as to assess
and evaluate students’ work? Such a redistribution of power would invest in students as knowers,
forming valuable learning partnerships that have been shown to enhance student learning (see
Baxter Magolda, 2009; Baxter Magolda & King, 2004). In undergraduate research (a highimpact practice), faculty can model redistribution of power by conceptualizing research as
working with and alongside participants rather than using them to advance a scholarly agenda
(Jourian & Nicolazzo, 2017). Through the curricular and cocurricular collaborations that are
recommended to produce common intellectual experiences (another high-impact practice),
student affairs professionals can conceptualize a student affairs praxis that requires working with
and alongside students in curriculum development, program planning, individual and group
advising, and organizational decision-making processes that complement the academic program.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Validation of Multiple Forms of Knowledge and Counternarratives
As Jones discussed in chapter 1, student development research, theory, and practice have been
informed primarily by positivist, postpositivist, and constructivist paradigms that either ignore or
fail to critique the ways power, identity, and systemic oppression affect students’ lives. These
paradigms rely heavily on whiteness and its desires to reduce knowledges and peoples into
quantifiable, comparable data points (Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). Such paradigms also
inform the development and operationalizing of Kuh et al. (2010) 11 high-impact practices.
As Waterman and Bazemore-James (chapter 13) pointed out, and discussed earlier,
orientations toward knowledge must be (re)considered and (re)conceptualized. The (in)visibility
of Indigenous “storying” (Waterman & Bazemore-James) and other cultures based in oral
traditions illustrates how an institution perceives folk traditions and Indigenous knowledge
orientations (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 1991). Silencing the counternarratives that such forms of
knowledge can enunciate starves the institution of valuable perspectives that can be
transformative to institutional systems, policies, and practices.
Although often excluded, multiple knowledge frameworks can be leveraged in the assessment
and evaluation processes of high-impact practices. For instance, when designing new livinglearning communities (a high-impact practice), these communities can honor different
knowledge orientations. Programs can be designed to encourage multiple forms of knowledge to
emerge throughout the semester or academic year that break down the preeminence of
decontextualized, specialized, and literate knowledge on campus.
Diversity and global learning, a high-impact practice, is often dependent on the use of
dissonance in the name of furthering learning despite counternarratives to the contrary from
minoritized students, particularly Women of Color and others with multiple marginalities in our
experience. Common awareness-raising activities like privilege walks often center majoritized
students’ learning at the expense of minoritized students, especially those who experience
multiple marginalities. Minoritized students must then reckon their position with those with the
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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most privilege, reminding students of their social position so that those most ahead ostensibly
can learn just how ahead they are. This was also discussed by Taylor and Reynolds in chapter 9.
Moreover, few people realize or note that Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1997)
called into the question the role of dissonance in their research. Although they acknowledged
that resolving conflict can lead to growth, they also pointed out that for the women in their
study, the experience of being doubted—the introduction of dissonance—was debilitating, not
energizing (Belenky et al., 1997). These scholars made the point that belief and connection need
to play a more prominent role than doubt and separation.
Such activities can be flipped on their head by engaging students in demonstration and
consideration of counternarratives and alternative perspectives on disadvantage. Jones and Abes
(2016) discussed such an approach specific to the privilege walk. D-L has used a class activity
that portrayed poor and working-class youth as skilled and resourceful instead of as victims of
circumstance. Alex has found value in using individual reflections and race caucuses to provide
space for exploring students’ feelings of dissonance. This process allows deeper learning about
power and privilege to occur, while not asking minoritized students to put the tangible outcomes
of their societal oppression on display. Diversity and global learning are better realized when
those who have been afforded privilege recognize the resilient and resistant practices developed
by minoritized communities in response to oppression.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Power and Pervasiveness of Oppression
A key tenet of critical theory is a recognition of the pervasiveness of oppressive power relations in
society (Giroux, 1983). As such, practitioners and researchers must interrogate the context of
social identity development for students rather than just focus on how students articulate their
identities in the midst of oppression. Such an awareness of the pervasiveness of oppression also
means interrogating institutional systems that create barriers for full engagement by students in
their collegiate experiences.
One way to begin to interrogate these systems is by examining spaces, like learning
communities, that create boundaries around who does and does not belong in a space,
reinforcing systems that continue to keep the same bodies and identities in the space that have
always been there (Johnston-Guerrero, Pizzolato, Johnston-Guerrero, & Pizzolato, 2016;
Nicolazzo & Marine, 2015). For example, learning communities for queer and trans* students
are consistently occupied mainly by white queer and trans* students. As a result, queer and trans*
People of Color (QTPOC) perceive that they do not belong in the space, the white students in
the space treat interested QTPOC as though they do not belong in the space, and the result
reinforces that QTPOC do not occupy the space. Practitioners can take a step back and examine
how conceptions of who uses services create ideas of who can use these services and be involved
in particular offices.
This has relevance for how we consider high-impact practices generally. Using data to inform
practice is essential in diversity work, as discussed by Sundt, Cole, and Wheaton (2017). Highimpact practices are said to be accessible to most students, but what data inform this narrative? It
is not enough to review data of the students accessing a service or set of services as broadly
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
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representative of the campus. This is particularly faulty when those data are not disaggregated
and contextualized using intersectional analyses that can make visible students within and across
groups who are not accessing a high-impact practice or set of practices. Moreover, upon noting
that certain groups are not making use of a practice or set of practices, researchers and
professionals must be cognizant of the narrative they tell about those data. Is it presumed that all
students could access a certain practice and those who do not are simply choosing to not do so?
An acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of oppression, even in purportedly benign systems,
must initially consider what unacknowledged barriers exist that prevent certain groups of
students from engaging in certain otherwise high-impact practices.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Implications of Student Development for High-Impact Practices
Now that we have critically interrogated high-impact practices, we turn to considering these
practices through the lens of development. Kuh et al. (2005, 2010) did not explicitly consider
student development; however, as Mayhew et al. (2016) concluded, students do experience
psychosocial development during their college experience. This development is not isolated to
any one facet of students’ experiences in college, but rather the whole of the experience
contributes to student development. Therefore, the developmental constructs discussed in Part
Two can provide insight and implications for critically deploying high-impact practices. We
focus here on those constructs not already incorporated in the previous discussion.
As Nicolazzo and Carter (chapter 8) cautioned, resilience is borne of students’ experiences
with adversity. Many minoritized students come to college having already developed resilience
strategies for negotiating oppressive institutional systems. High-impact practices need to be
implemented with a consciousness of how students may feel they have to be resilient in order to
navigate their college experience.
In chapter 9, Taylor and Reynolds complicated the practice of invoking dissonance in
students in order to facilitate their development. Their chapter uses Reynolds’s experience in a
study abroad program, a high-impact practice related to diversity and global learning, to make
the necessary distinction between dissonance and trauma. Students come to higher education
with various experiences. For minoritized students, those experiences may include already
negotiating the dissonance of living among unjust systems. Their engagement in high-impact
practices should not reproduce that traumatic dissonance in the name of facilitating
developmental goals.
Stewart and Brown unpacked the social construction of identities in chapter 10, pointing out in
their discussion the vital role that othermothering and mentoring can play in helping minoritized
students find support in their identity journeys. High-impact practices like first-year experiences
with faculty and undergraduate research need to be designed with this potential in mind. Faculty
need training and development in this level of mentorship so that the burden of fulfilling these
roles does not fall inherently to minoritized faculty .
Kupo and Oxendine confronted the challenges of authenticity for some students in chapter
11. They noted that not all students can show up authentically in institutional spaces. This is
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from uaz on 2021-01-13 21:07:08.
especially important to consider in all high-impact practices, but especially those that involve and
expect deep sharing of personal histories in settings before rapport has been established.
Agency is the subject discussed by Okello and White in chapter 12. They proposed
“embodied agency” as a means of reckoning with the material and psychic effects of oppression.
By acknowledging the many facets of the realities facing minoritized students (i.e., existential
situation, competing forces, historical memory, meaning-making capacities, and creativity), their
engagement in high-impact practices can be nuanced. This is key for practices like internships,
which challenge authenticity, the social construction of identities, and agency. Internship
coordinators must acknowledge and work to support students’ meaning-making capacities and
creativity in the face of competing forces and historical memories of employment discrimination
affecting People of Color, queer and trans* people, people with disabilities, and formerly
incarcerated people.
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this chapter, we discussed high-impact practices and critical theory challenges to and of those
practices and considered the student development implications of those practices. We offered
ways to more mindfully offer high-impact practices on campuses, disrupting the neutrality
narrative associated with high-impact practices as an inherent good. We hope that through this
analysis, practitioners are able to think more deeply about the ways student affairs praxis can
support and redirect academic affairs’ applications of high-impact practices as elements of
students’ postsecondary experiences. As a field committed to transformational practice,
practitioners should see student development work as one that requires critical reflection,
discussion, planning, and action. We encourage readers to consider the following discussion
1. Beyond what the authors offer, how can established high-impact practices be modified to
better account for critical and poststructural concepts of student development?
2. How have you seen high-impact practices implemented in ways that did not take into
account the critical theoretical perspectives espoused here? How have you seen high-impact
practices implemented in ways that did?
3. As a student affairs practitioner, how can you operate within your sphere of influence to
bring a critical consciousness to bear on how high-impact practices are used at your
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Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
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methodological practices alongside LGBTQ participants. Educational Action Research, 25(4), 594–609.
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practices (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Iowa Research Online.
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Daniel Tillapaugh
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rior to becoming a faculty member, I worked for eight years as a student affairs
professional in residence life and then student activities, where I oversaw student clubs
and organizations, orientation programs, and student leadership programs. Student
development theories, including student involvement and engagement theories, shaped
and informed my work. I distinctly remember sharing with students and their families at
orientation those talking points informed by research: “It’s important to get involved during
college to find your niche and passions, but also because research tells us that students who do so
perform better, are more satisfied with their college experience, and persist to graduation at
higher rates.”
As time has gone on, I began to see directly how damaging this mind-set could be and
became critical of these talking points. What about the first-generation college student working 2
jobs to put herself through college and prioritizing her finances over getting involved in student
clubs? How about the adult learner, a father of 3, coming back to college after a military career,
who struggles to connect to many of the experiences dominated by 18- to 24-year-olds on
campus? What about Students of Color constantly marginalized by individuals at their
historically white institution that perpetuates whiteness and dominant norms through
curriculum, campus programming, and policies? Each of these questions provides an essential
counternarrative related to students and their engagement or involvement.
When organizing this chapter, I reflected on my time in the field, drawing on and dreaming
about what I considered important outcomes for students through their involvement and
engagement. This dreaming and this contemplation draw on critical voices and literature to
engage in emancipatory or liberatory work aimed at expanding our notions of what it means for
students to engage on campus (Tuck & Yang, 2018). In this chapter, I first briefly discuss and
define the terms student involvement and student engagement as they are currently understood.
Next, I attempt to reframe the discussion of student involvement and engagement. Last, I
highlight the ways that higher education professionals can integrate the praxis of student
involvement and engagement from a critical perspective to benefit all students and their
Defining Terms
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With research spanning almost four decades, higher education scholars (Astin 1984, 1993; Kuh,
2003, 2009; Tinto, 1993; Wolf-Wendel, Ward, & Kinzie, 2009) called attention to the
importance of student involvement and engagement as it relates to student success. Student
involvement, defined by Astin (1984), is “the amount of physical and psychological energy that
the student devotes to the academic experience” (p. 297). Astin’s (1984) work highlighted the
fact that particular environments, such as residence hall communities, and group affiliations,
such as honors programs, athletics team involvement, student government, and academic
involvement, create positive relationships for student success.
Student engagement expands on the idea of student involvement to incorporate those
meaningful learning opportunities students partake in on campus and the ways institutions
promote these opportunities (Kuh, 2003, 2009). Kuh’s (2003) work was instrumental to the
founding of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE, 2014). The following major
benchmarks of student engagement emerged from the NSSE data: (a) level of academic
challenge, (b) active and collaborative learning, (c) student–faculty interaction, (d) enriching
educational experiences, and (e) supportive campus environment (NSSE, n.d.). Until recently,
much of the scholarship on student involvement and engagement has consistently framed these
concepts from the perspective of an institutional context. In other words, students are invited
and encouraged to find opportunities for involvement based on their personal interests that
provide them a stronger connection to their campus community and a network of individuals to
support them within that community.
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Explorations of Student Involvement and Engagement
As Collins (2000) noted, “Within U.S. culture, racist and sexist ideologies permeate the social
structure to such a degree that they become hegemonic, namely, seen as natural, normal, and
inevitable” (p. 7). To expand on Collins’s argument, even our notions of student involvement
and engagement have been created by centering students who largely fit the dominant culture—
those who are white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian men of wealth—or often
demanding students who do not fit that profile to assimilate to the norms of the dominant
culture within their institutions. Historically, the collective focus on student involvement and
engagement has directed students to participating in campus life. To be sure, many students who
participate in student engagement activities find opportunities to engage meaningfully in
community, gain a sense of belonging, and develop critical skills that help them personally and
professionally (Mayhew et al., 2016; Strayhorn, 2012). Yet, far too often, the dominant
narratives in the scholarship on involvement and engagement have focused on those who engage
rather than explore why some students do not get involved on campus. By problematizing the
concepts of student engagement and involvement, higher education professionals must think
critically about how to best support all students rather than continue the status quo.
In their article on student involvement, engagement, and integration, Wolf-Wendel et al.
(2009) quoted higher education scholar Frances Stage, who stated, “If you want to do something
to change the status quo then we really have to upend the models—we have to change the
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questions” (p. 422). Stage’s words are critical here; we, as higher education professionals, must
change our questions and our understandings of student involvement and engagement. In the
remainder of this chapter, I frame the discussion using two main questions:
1. How can we reframe our understanding of student involvement and engagement from a
critical perspective?
2. What would a critical praxis of student involvement and engagement look like in higher
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Reframing Student Involvement and Engagement
We know that many students do not find their college or university campuses to be a space in
which they wish to involve or engage themselves. In addition, many students, particularly those
from historically underrepresented populations, continue to find themselves at institutions with
chilly, hostile climates set up to serve those with dominant, privileged identities (Stewart, 2017a).
More recently, scholars have examined the connections between student engagement for
historically underrepresented student populations, such as Students of Color (Mitchell, Soria,
Daniele, & Gipson, 2015; Museus & Quaye, 2009; Rendón Linares & Muñoz, 2011), student
veterans (Kim & Cole, 2013), and transgender students (Dugan, Kusel, & Simounet, 2012).
This research has attempted to provide crucial insights on the continued persistence and
retention of minoritized students in higher education. This work is meaningful and necessary;
however, positivist and constructivist views on student development still ground much of this
literature. Therefore, there is a need for deconstructing and reconstructing how higher education
professionals come to understand student involvement and engagement using critical lenses, such
as those discussed in Part One of this book.
To discuss this further, a critical perspective on student engagement and involvement needs
to explore four questions: first, the reasons why students, particularly minoritized students, often
reject campus involvement; second, why these students often do not find their campus to be a
space or place where they can engage; third, why they are sent messages that they should not
engage; and fourth, why these students find the need for community off campus and/or at home
in a way that their on-campus community cannot provide. Contemporary scholarship has
demonstrated how historically underrepresented students have rejected traditional notions of
student involvement and engagement; for example, Indigenous students (Waterman, 2012),
Black and Latino students (Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Stewart, 2017b), and transgender
students (Catalano, 2015; Jourian, 2016; Nicolazzo, 2016). Likewise, much of this emergent
literature also connects the developmental concepts explored earlier in this text to student
involvement and engagement.
Critical Praxis of Student Involvement and Engagement
As a scholar-practitioner who cares deeply about the possibilities of more equitable outcomes of
student involvement and engagement for all students, I am instantly drawn to work that helps
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connect the theoretical to action, which Freire (1970) defined as praxis. For some higher
education professionals, critical perspectives can be challenging and daunting, especially when
grappling with how to best put these concepts into actual practice. As a result, I wanted to
forward ideas about critical perspectives on student involvement and engagement as they related
to each of the developmental concepts discussed in Part Two of this text. In this section, I offer
vignettes from either my personal experiences in the field or those of some trusted colleagues
who use critical approaches in their work with students in higher education.
When considering my work as an administrator or as a faculty member, I want my students to
find their ability to bounce back from difficulties and persist through life challenges. Yet, as
Nicolazzo and Carter named in chapter 8, a critical perspective of resilience moves beyond just
an individual act of behaviors and instead engages the ways that resilience is a dynamic, ongoing
practice of kinship and community that can benefit students. In addition, systemically there are
also interlocking power dynamics that institutionally benefit or penalize students based on their
multiple social identities that often can affect one’s resilience (Abes & Kasch, 2007; Nicolazzo,
2016, 2017).
For instance, CJ Venable, an academic adviser at Kent State University, shared a story of an
advisee, who was a Student of Color. She came to CJ’s office because she was upset with a faculty
member for singling her out during multiple classes because of her race; she felt her grades in the
course suffered as a result. CJ recounted,
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She was angry and feeling defeated, with no understanding of what she could do. Helping her to understand what
systems exist to file grievances, often hidden from student view until students are expected to use them flawlessly, and
to name how a culture of whiteness pervades the department was essential to my work with her. (CJ Venable, personal
communication, October 3, 2017)
In terms of student engagement and involvement, there is an onus often on minoritized students
at historically white colleges and universities to “fit” and conform into institutions that
historically were not created for them. CJ’s advisee certainly struggled with understanding how
to navigate her department’s protocols, but as CJ reflected, “By learning how to use existing
systems and structures, the student was able to voice her anger at being targeted while also
attempting to address how the department stifles resilience in students of color” (CJ Venable,
personal communication, October 3, 2017). Through CJ’s work with their student advisee, they
were able to partner together as adviser–advisee to engage in resilience that modeled a
community strategy of resistance, providing an example of the community-based resilience
Nicolazzo and Carter discussed in chapter 8 of this text. In other words, by coming together to
discuss how to resist systemic oppression, CJ and the student were able to practice resilience
together. In addition, CJ elaborated that Nicolazzo’s (2017) work on resilience had been
inspirational and prompted them to ask different questions about resilience in students. CJ
stated, “Rather than [asking], ‘Why don’t these students have resilience?’, I ask myself and my
colleagues, ‘What are we doing to allow students to be resilient?’” (CJ Venable, personal
communication, October 3, 2017).
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If we continue to examine the notion of resilience in student involvement and engagement, it
becomes important to think about how campus structures create problems rather than assume
students are the problem. For instance, we often promote student organizations to minoritized
students and encourage them to find their niche. Yet, these organizations are typically singleidentity focused rather than reflective of one’s multiple social identities. The current approach to
resilience as individually focused allows a deficit model approach to students’ ability to rebound
rather than critically interrogating whether institutions are set up for students to persist in the
face of multiple moments of failure, resistance, and dissonance, which will be discussed next.
As discussed by Taylor and Reynolds in chapter 9, dissonance, from a critical perspective, is
defined as “the phenomenon of recognizing lies that societal systems and their authorities tell”
(p. 111, this volume). In their chapter, Taylor and Reynolds remind readers that individuals with
oppressed identities often experience erasure and invalidation of their lived experiences given the
fact that those with dominant privilege control the agents of socialization, such as educational
institutions and media. As Reynolds’s story of her international service-learning experience in
Ecuador in chapter 9 illustrates, dissonance can be experienced quite suddenly and traumatically
through experiences of student involvement and engagement.
Given the recent sociopolitical climate within the United States, dissonance, for many
students, has been channeled into increased student activism on campus. For example, over the
past four years, students protested racial tensions at many institutions, such as the University of
Missouri (Izadi, 2015), Ithaca College (Svriuga, 2016), and the University of Vermont (Aloe,
2018). These students engaged across communities, outlined clear demands for justice, and
engaged in various forms of protest and direct action. Although the traditional literature on
student involvement and engagement does not necessarily name student activism as a highimpact practice, Stewart (2017b) recent work outlined the significance for racially minoritized
students, particularly Black students, of protests and demonstrations around social responsibility
and engagement with others. Yet, when thinking about the concept of dissonance as discussed in
this text, what would have happened if higher education professionals at these campuses had
directly named the challenges and issues minoritized students faced in terms of racialized discord
on campus rather than promoted potential falsehoods about inclusive communities? This
connects to Ahmed’s (2012) notion of “institutional whiteness” when she asked, “What would it
mean to talk about whiteness as an institutional problem or as a problem of institutions?” (p.
35). How might students experience dissonance differently if we centered whiteness as the
problem, particularly in the context of student involvement and engagement? While student
protests serve as a spark to important dialogue among students to engage in processing their
experiences on campus, finding community with others, and increasing their social support
networks, I would argue it is too little, too late for many students. Minoritized students should
be able to learn about oppressive environments without having to be the educators about their
oppression. This example also connects to the concept of how students come to make meaning
of who they are and how the convergence of their identities is constructed.
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Social Construction of Identities
In chapter 10, Stewart and Brown expanded on the traditional ways that higher education
professionals come to understand the social construction of identities, particularly recognizing
the importance of destabilizing identity and centering community, space, and experience as it
relates to one’s holistic sense of self. When considering this in student engagement and
involvement, higher education professionals need to understand that they can create conditions
by which students are asked to engage in critical self-reflection of themselves and the systems of
which they are a part and how their institutions play a role in how they perform their identities.
Salvador Mena, senior associate vice chancellor of student affairs at Rutgers University–New
Brunswick, shared an example of this in practice.
Using intersectionality as a framework for his praxis, Mena recounted an example of working
with a heterosexual Asian American college man struggling in his adjustment to campus. In
particular, the student was struggling with his identity, having been adopted and raised by a
white family. During his time on campus, he often felt “othered” based on the small number of
other Asian American students at his predominantly white institution; this was particularly
salient for the student when discussing his perceived challenges of dating on campus because of
commonly held “stereotypes of masculinity and race” about Asian American men (S. Mena,
personal communication, December 15, 2017). Continuing on, Mena noted that throughout
their ongoing conversations, “we discussed how his identity was formed and shaped in the
environment he was raised in before attending the university and how his new environment
could further shape his identity” (S. Mena, personal communication, December 15, 2017).
Contemplating this example further, we see that power structures and institutions significantly
influenced the social construction of this student’s multiple identities. For this student, finding
opportunities for connection on campus through student organizations served as a key way of
strengthening a sense of social support (S. Mena, personal communication, December 15, 2017).
The ongoing relationship established between Mena and this student created meaningful
conditions for critical self-reflection and examination of biases, stereotypes, and assumptions
grounded in the ways this student viewed his multiple identities, including his race, gender, and
sexuality (S. Mena, personal communication, December 15, 2017). Essentially, these
conversations between Mena and the student served as a form of engagement through the use of
theoretical praxis. By using intersectionality as a conceptual framework, Mena was able to help
this student consider the ways interlocking power structures of privilege and oppression played a
role in his life and how that understanding could help him shift his understanding of self and
others. In fact, praxis gave the student the tools to explore how others’ perceptions influenced his
own sense of self and the agency to explore his own language through engagement with peers.
This interaction also helped this student gain a better sense of his personal authenticity, which
will be discussed in the next section.
Within the context of student involvement and engagement, authenticity is connected to having
students engage in meaningful learning opportunities that may connect to their personal interests
and network and collaborate with others through these activities. Yet, as Kupo and Oxendine
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asserted in chapter 11, true authenticity needs to be understood through a critical lens in light of
the fact that authenticity is informed by colonization and its role on identity and community.
For example, heather c. lou, director of student life and leadership at Metropolitan State
University, shared an experience of supporting students who were organizing a sit-in in the
chancellor’s office to protest social injustice at a former institution. She recalled, “I was able to
guide students in their radical praxis through mentorship, coaching, and advising, especially
around university politics, policies, health and safety measures, and in building strategic
networks” (h. lou, personal communication, November 27, 2017). Through her work, she called
“into question the ways that colonialism and white supremacy dictate who is being ‘strategic’
versus ‘manipulative’ versus ‘authentic’ in these highly contested and politicized roles” (h. lou,
personal communication, November 27, 2017).
In lou’s example here, she names authenticity as a key element that informs students’
engagement. As Kupo and Oxendine noted in chapter 11, authenticity from a critical perspective
requires an acknowledgment of fluidity, context, and change. lou named that holding her
positionality as a “queer, disabled, cisgender, multiracial, Asian womxn of color” (h. lou,
personal communication, November 27, 2017) was essential in grounding an understanding of
who she is. In addition, her multiple social and personal identities influenced the ways in which
she could be authentic in an institution and a system that was not designed for her or for many
of her students. In the example of her mentorship to her students, she viewed authenticity as a
critical piece of praxis by sussing out one’s authentic motives, tactics, and engagement. In
addition, lou helped her students understand the systemic flow of power here; there were aspects
of power, authority, and privilege that all played out within the larger institutional system, but
they did not allow those power structures to dictate their actions. Her work connects to the
dialogue between Kupo and Oxendine in chapter 11 when they named that institutions of
higher education often are experienced as locations of intense contradiction around identitybased introspection and invalidation. For the students, engaging collaboratively through
authentic concern about issues of injustice created opportunities to take action and address these
complexities. This scenario provides an example of the various ways that authenticity plays out
across individuals and community.
In the traditional context of student development, agency is defined as students acting
independently and making their own life decisions and choices. However, a critical perspective
interrogates the ways that power, privilege, and oppression play a role in students’ sense of
agency. As Okello and White noted in chapter 12, the concept of agency is reinforced by
Western norms and logic without an adequate examination of the historical and contemporary
legacies that colonization and oppression have played on individuals’ lives.
Agency is directly connected to, and plays an important role in, student involvement and
engagement, particularly when considering minoritized students in higher education. The
traditional theories posited by Astin (1984, 1993) and Kuh (2003, 2009) did not take students’
multiple social identities into consideration as they directly relate to integration and
acculturation into college. Assuming that college students can act autonomously to make their
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own choices is a fallacy that dismisses systemic issues of power and oppression that play a role in
students’ lives.
In chapter 12, Okello and White discussed an embodied agency, which takes into account
one’s social location, an understanding of oppressive factors that contribute to one’s subjugation,
one’s meaning-making process, and an emphasis on taking action. When contemplating
embodied agency, I think of one of the undergraduate students I mentored in my first job after
graduate school, a young Black man who identified as gay and who was seemingly struggling in
his adjustment to campus. He and I connected immediately. What I learned from him was not
that he was having difficulties adjusting but that he was engaged in constant questioning about
his life choices. He experienced deep tensions about being rejected by his father because of his
sexuality and challenges about what it meant to be a queer Black man at a predominantly white
liberal arts college; he was certainly engaged in a delicate limbo dance, as Okello and White
discussed in chapter 12. As a young man with multiple minoritized identities, he had not only a
strong desire to prove himself to others and succeed but also a yearning to please others and not
disappoint. He rejected being involved in cultural organizations because he felt a sense of
liminality that he was neither Black enough for the Black Student Union nor gay enough for the
LGBTQ organization on campus. Instead, his embodied agency led him to find connection and
place in studying abroad, peer mentoring programs, and a student programming board, all areas
of the cocurricular experience where he could find connection and meaning on his own terms.
His story also relates to the importance of understanding how the concept of context is
important when considering student development.
As Duran and Jones indicated in chapter 14, a critical approach to centering context creates
questions about how individuals are shaped by the context they are in, as well as who gets access
to particular contexts. To be sure, context plays a role in understanding student involvement and
engagement. Many students’ institutional context may not be one where they find belonging,
because it was created by and continues to reinforce norms and expectations that do not connect
to their culture. Other students’ dominant identities have provided them with a privilege of
understanding those norms and expectations. In addition, acknowledgment that one context can
be experienced and perceived in a multitude of ways by multiple students is necessary.
When considering context as it relates to student involvement and engagement, it is essential
to consider how students engage rather than merely being engaged. Justin Sipes, coordinator of
cocurricular community engagement at the University of North Florida, highlighted this nuance
when reflecting on his time working in fraternity and sorority life. He said, “Tradition is the
scapegoat when there is failure to critically think about and examine why certain practices and
beliefs exist. Too often, chapters do not consider where these traditions stemmed from and never
confront why they persist” (J. Sipes, personal communication, September 22, 2017). A student
who Sipes advised was actively engaged in a fraternity that had “strong ties to the Confederacy
and many local chapters hosted an annual event that harkened to this era in various ways” (J.
Sipes, personal communication, September 22, 2017). During the semester, the student leader
took a course on the history of the antebellum South, and “he would come and speak to me
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about what he was learning and we would discuss what that meant for his organization” (J. Sipes,
personal communication, September 22, 2017). Through their conversations, “it was clear that
his perspective had changed dramatically and he realized that the event hosted, and practices, by
the local chapter were antithetical to the values of the organization” (J. Sipes, personal
communication, September 22, 2017).
Sipes’s example offers an important element of a student’s rejection of willful ignorance.
Given that the student could no longer reject out of hand the connections of his fraternity’s
traditions to a harmful, racist practice, he ultimately considered the context of the situation and
took meaningful action to create cultural change, both at a local level (his fraternity) and at a
larger systemic level (throughout his national fraternity). In addition, the student’s actions on
local and national levels to end this event were informed by a geographical, a social, and a
historical context that was rooted in racism and marginalization. By gaining a clearer
understanding of these contexts and the ways they were negatively affecting students’ experiences
in the fraternity, this student was able to translate his new awareness into positive social change;
this also required a new level of knowledge and knowing, which is described next.
Knowledge and Knowing
As Waterman and Bazemore-James discussed in chapter 13, the idea of knowledge and knowing
is a contested concept when using critical perspectives. Much of our knowledge is shaped by
context and history; yet, history is most often framed from dominant norms and perspectives
that promote power and privilege over the subordinated other. As a result, individuals using a
critical lens have to interrogate knowledge and knowing, asking, “What is missing from the
knowledge I am receiving?” and “What meaning do I make of that information?” In addition, it
is important to ask, “Who has the knowledge?”
Recently, I gave a guest lecture in an interdisciplinary first-year honors course on my campus,
discussing LGBTQ+ issues in society. Using Freire’s (1970) notion of problem-posing education
in my pedagogy, I asked students to listen, dialogue, and act to strengthen their critical
consciousness around issues of sexuality and gender on campus. One of the students connected
with me after the lecture, frustrated because she had wanted to take action after my lecture to
create a proposal for a gender and sexuality resource center as her student government project for
that year. However, the student government leadership turned down her request to engage on
this, saying that they did not think it was necessary or feasible. Not taking that answer lying
down, she approached me to see if I could offer her some help on how to move forward.
Since that meeting, she has worked collaboratively with leaders of the campus’s LGBTQ+
student organization; built a campus-wide coalition of faculty, staff, and students who are
invested in advancing this proposal; and begun to do benchmarking of other peer institutions
and their inclusion of such a center on their campus. I would argue that this student’s resilience
and persistence in the face of dismissal and rejection speaks volumes about the power of
transformative learning through student engagement. Her desire to act moved from her hearing a
question in the classroom about how each student present could help make change around
gender and sexuality issues within their sphere of influence on campus to her finding her own
community and coconspirators.
Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from uaz on 2021-01-13 21:05:59.
Through this student’s actions, she was engaging in questioning forms of knowledge and
knowing that continued to reify dominant perspectives. This was a form of disrupting
normativity, as the previous example names, by disrupting cisheteronormativity at this specific
institution with the hopeful outcome of having a center specifically geared to support sexual and
gender minority students. This questioning of knowledge and knowing, done in community
through student engagement efforts, can result in transformative possibilities for students.
Concluding Thoughts
Copyright © 2019. Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Critical theory provides a helpful lens to reexamine how we understand the work of higher
education and shift that work. In particular, our thinking on student involvement and
engagement in higher education has stayed relatively stagnant, with a great deal of reification and
replication of these theories and models since the start of student affairs work in our field. As
mentioned earlier in this chapter, student involvement and engagement programs are steeped in
traditions and mantras of “we’ve always done it this way” that uphold the status quo and largely
serve students with traditionally dominant identities. However, reframing these concepts using a
critical approach provides an opportunity to ask why we continue to do this and who is served by
these traditions. If any students are excluded in some way by these programs or services for
student involvement or engagement, we have to be proactive in critiquing, problematizing, and
reshaping these opportunities for engagement. Student affairs professionals must consider how
student involvement and engagement theories historically have privileged some and marginalized
those who do not meet the set outcomes and expectations these theories espouse. As a result, we
have to start changing the ways we understand our own professional practices and think critically
about the ways we may in fact be harming our students unintentionally. I offer the following
discussion questions for readers to consider:
1. Think about the current ways you understand student involvement and engagement as
concepts. How can you engage with some emancipatory dreaming from a critical
perspective about how these concepts might be reframed on your campus?
2. Many of the developmental concepts discussed in this text connect to the concepts of
student involvement and engagement. In what ways do you see these developmental
concepts playing a role in either hindering or helping student engagement and
involvement for particular student populations on your campus?
3. Critical perspectives are meant to disrupt the status quo and problematize traditions and
practices that get reinforced. How can you work collaboratively with others on your
campus to disrupt the traditional notions of student involvement and engagement to
create more equitable outcomes for your students?
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Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & Stewart, D. L. (Eds.). (2019). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Created from uaz on 2021-01-13 21:05:59.
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