Knowledge and Understanding of Student Populations and Student Development


Sub-competencies for Competency #3:

    1. Understand the impact of student identity, cultural heritage, and institutional and societal systems (including power and privilege), on identity development, personal growth, individual perspectives, and students’ experiences
    2. Recognize various dimensions of identity and the intersectionality of those dimensions in the lives and learning experiences of students
    3. Analyze and apply concepts and theories of student and human development to enhance work with students
    4. Identify and articulate issues students face when transitioning into and out of institutions of higher education
    5. Assess the impact of varied higher educational settings and institutional types on the student experience
    6. Apply varying approaches and relevant technology to communicating with different students and student populations



Each person is unique with their own story, and their experiences and personal identities shape that story. From a young age, I have always wanted to better understand the world around me and those living within it. The College Student Services Administration program gave me an insight to one’s personal identity, how complex it is and how it is often built up of multiple sub-identities that intersect with each other (driven by culture, environment, individual beliefs). It is important to recognize that identities make a student who they are, but identities can change so there will always be growth happening and as student affairs professionals it is imperative, we are aware of that. Thankfully, during this program I have learned multiple student development theories that can help me meet students where they are and address how to provide support and guidance. Each student will have a different experience within higher education – transitioning in and out of institutions can impact that, but I see it as my responsibility to make that transition as easy as possible. Technology is a huge part of higher education’s growth and future, and I believe it allows for reaching a broader audience, more adaptive and collaborative approaches to programs and students individually, more specific communication plans, and allows for creativity and innovation to shine.


Student Identities, Cultural Heritage, and Institutional & Societal Systems

Students deserve the space to be able to seek out their identities in college. However, as I mentioned in the first competency, institutions in the United States were originally created to educate the historically privileged people in society, white men. During ‘Legal Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 554), we were taught about the ‘well-known image’ of ‘McLaurin’s seat’ (Russell, 2002), portraying the situation which led to McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents 339 U.S. 637 (1950). McLaurin was forced to sit separately from his classmates because he was black, despite being fully admitted into the institution. Unfortunately, students today still face discrimination for being a person of color. Russell (2002) points out that even though segregation may not exist in the way seats in a classroom were separated when McLaurin was in school, inequalities remain. In many ways institutions continue to be cultures that are unwelcoming to students of color as the dominant narrative remains. College campuses are often created by larger systems of oppression and privilege. In ‘Multicultural Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 520), it was explained during class that a student can experience three specific levels of oppression based on their identities; the three types are individual, institutional, and structural oppression, which each of these types can be found on a micro and macro level as well (Pincus, 2000). Unfortunately, society has created these systems as a way to dictate what is normal (good, such as being able bodied) what is abnormal (bad, being disabled). As a society for the most part, we have been conditioned to see identities only as dominant or subdominant, which is how society has categorized them. Our perspective of identities have been shaped for us.

So, what does this mean for higher education? Prior to a student stepping on to a campus, there are systems inside and outside of the institution that dictate how students (and faculty/staff) should think, act, and be. In my opinion, it is imperative that we unlearn those systems and think for ourselves. Those with “undominant” identities will experience multiple assumptions being made about them without anyone interacting with them. When students are treated as “different” because of their individual identities, they need support. It is important to recognize and note that for me to understand each person’s experiences is unrealistic, but I can do my best to unlearn and relearn to make a more accepting, welcoming environment for all students. Throughout this program, I have an increased awareness of how much I still have to learn. Fortunately, the CSSA program and my experiences at Oregon State have provided knowledge of the history, present and future dynamics of racism, sexism and other ‘isms’ that are found in the systems that make up not only higher education but the world. As I develop skills, I am hoping I can provide a more equitable space for all by acting against injustices, bringing awareness to others, providing knowledge and skills and empowering others to act in a similar fashion. It is important that each student sees themselves in those that work for the university; universities could do this by hiring more diverse faculty and staff or hosting more diverse speakers when putting on conferences, lectures or workshops.


Identity and Intersectionality

Identity is fluid. Our identities are shaped or influenced by the environment, background, and circumstances within our lives. Each identity intersects with other identities. For example, a student’s race and sexual orientation would intersect depending on the context (i.e., a LGBTQ+ event) and larger macro systems associated with such contexts – one or the other may become more significant to the student. Personal identities not only intersect with each other, but with larger systems as well (power and privilege, oppression, etc.) that also intersect with the social identities (for example, race/ethnicity, social economic status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc.)  (Jones & Abes, 2013). The Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (MMDI) shows that we have a core made up of our personal attributes, characteristics and personal identity (parts of us that rarely change). Encircling our core in oval shaped routes, representing the fluidity of an identity’s salience, are our social identities. As they are orbiting around our core, they are prone to contextual influences which then dictate the salience of a particular identity (proximity to our core). Additionally, the MMDI shows that our identities are constantly intersecting with one another and the larger macro-systems of power (sexism, racism, etc.). The MMDI helped me understand how many identities there are that intersect, the complexity of those intersecting identities, and provided a glimpse of what students are experiencing regularly. For example, students are not only balancing their social life, academics, and work, but must navigate experiences that stem from many other intersecting identities.

Jones and McEwen (2000) also found that identity salience can be created due to external forces or contexts. During ‘Multicultural Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 520) I did a presentation on racial incidents and bias response, where Boysen (2012) confirmed that campuses are struggling to maintain a welcoming climate for diversity and that about 50% of students encounter some form of prejudice, discrimination or stereotyping on campuses. At a predominately white institution, students of color may need support to develop their identities. The dominant White culture may stifle their personal racial and ethnic identities. The external forces at the institution may increase the salience of their racial identities. LePeau et al. (2016) taught me that campus educators need to consider their multiple identities in relation to the initiatives they endorse and how those initiatives can contribute to creating positive diverse learning environments (DLEs) for students to thrive. DLEs and Bias Response Teams (BRTs) are connected through how campus educations have the capacity to influence the institutional dimensions and creating DLEs and how the BRTs respond to that.

Complexity in one’s identity can be hard for any student to understand. The contextual influences surrounding a student will continually shape what identities are most salient to them. Intersectionality can often cause friction and build up to where students might find themselves at a crossroads without the experience or knowledge to know what to do. As a student affairs practitioner, I believe it is important for me to help students understand the many dimensions of their identities, and the countless intersectional moments within their lives as well. In order to do this, I see myself asking different questions to both myself and to students – ‘how might someone who identifies differently than myself feel in this situation/context?’ ‘what kind of support is needed or wanted in this situation?’. I found that through conversation that I have had the opportunity to explore my identities and their intersectionality, and I look forward to having similar moments with students so they can learn more about themselves, their identities and intersectionality.


Student Development Theory

During this graduate program, I have been introduced to multiple student development theories and at times, it felt overwhelming to learn and memorize them all and to be able to determine which theories would be beneficial/helpful when working with students. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that student development is not linear, it is and will be messy so in my opinion, that is why multiple theories exist because there is not one straight way to develop and one straight way to decide which theories would benefit students. During ‘Principles and Theories of Student Development I and II’ (CSSA 552/553) we were encouraged to engage in several key theories deeply and critically, through which I found a few that really resonated with me. These include, Chickering and Reisser’s Theory of Identity Development, Perry’s Theory of Intellectual and Ethical Development, and Critical Race Theory.

Chickering’s Seven Vectors of Identity Development theorize the ‘tasks’ students must go through while developing their identity. The seven vectors are: developing competence, managing emotions, movement through autonomy toward interdependence, developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, developing purpose, and developing integrity (Patton, et al, 2016). This theory may seem rigid to some because it has stages, but it is fluid and messy in my opinion which makes it compelling. When considering my own development through the lens of this theory, I know I have bounced around different vectors, moved forward and back through each stage multiple times, but it is a great baseline for development when working with students and trying to determine ways to assist students as well. Chickering’s Seven Vectors provides a framework for student development, and it can help educators develop better programs and learning outcomes to help guide students as they shape their sense of autonomy, opinions, ethics, and talents.

Perry’s Theory of Intellectual and Ethical Development proposes that colleges students can take a journey through nine positions (perspectives) of intellectual and ethical development (Patton et al., 2016). The characteristics describe the students’ attitude toward knowledge, a journey toward more complex forms of thought about the world, major, and self. The nine positions are grouped into four categories: dualism (concrete knowledge/perspectives), multiplicity (subjective knowledge/perspectives), contextual relativism (procedural knowledge/perspectives) and commitment in relativism (constructed knowledge/perspectives) (Patton, et al., 2016). While this theory was created in the early 1960s, I believe it still is valuable to and useable within higher education today. This theory has a fluid approach of having positions instead of ‘stages’, like other developmental theories as Perry wanted to make no assumption about duration. It allows for students to be in multiple positions of this theory at once which allows more opportunities for students to explore their place in the world without being “tied down” to a particular ‘stage of life’. Perry’s theory can be used to better understand the potential levels of learning students are at, and more importantly what needs to happen to encourage original and creative thought by the student. Higher education administrators can use this theory to guide the development of first year experience programs and in their efforts to improve college teaching practices.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) “is a perspective that emphasizes the centrality of race, racism and challenges white supremacy in the law, education, politics, and other social systems (Patton et. al, 2016). The core idea is that racism is a social construct and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice. CRT has become an important perspective in social science research, including higher education and student development (Patton et al, 2016). When thinking about CRT it is important to consider my own race and how it intersects with other social identities (such as gender, social class, or mobility). As a student affairs professional, it is imperative to understand the experiences of individual students and to be especially cognizant of race and racism in student development, research, theory, and practice. For example, understanding that many developmental theories were developed as a result of research on White students, and they may not be applicable to students of color.

Throughout this program, I have had the opportunity analyze and apply theory in multiple situations and assignments (Artifact A , Artifact G, Artifact M, and multiple discussion board prompts). I have learned that theories are not a definite plan of action when considering a student’s development, but theories are great to use as a lens. Theory is a great tool to help me understand what students might be experiencing during their developmental process, and theories can play a great part in trying to create environments, programs, and learning outcomes that can boost a student’s development. However, theories are not a one size fits all and they do come with limitations. Even though researchers try and be as objective as possible, it is hard to completely to avoid their own personal views of life. Moving forward, I need to remain aware that each theory will not fit each student while also not replacing a student’s individual story with what a theory says their story should be. As I develop programs and create learning environments, I plan on allowing theory to act as a guide for my decisions and as a framework I can build ideas from.


Higher Education Transitions

Transitions occur throughout our lives. In higher education and student affairs, we have a unique responsibility to help students as they transition in and out of our universities. When traditionally aged students transition into our institutions, they often enter a different world. It is a world focused on higher-level academic learning and community engagement. When paired with newfound freedom, students may struggle to meet the standards of academic quality, individual responsibility, and maintain balance in their lives.

Vincent Tinto found that there are three stages of a student’s transition to college: separation, transition, and integration. The stage of separation has to do with a student’s ability to disassociate themselves with their past social groups, such as family, friends, and high school groups (Tinto, 1988). The second stage of transition is a time when students are between their past groups and new future groups, which is around the first few weeks before and into college. Integration, the final stage, has to do with a student becoming fully integrated into a new community both academically and socially. Tinto (1988) found that a student’s ability to integrate into a new group is imperative to their success and retention in college. However, leaving past groups is never easy and students often find themselves in transition. Students do not want to leave their old group but are also excited to find a new one at their new school. The moment of transition is the most vulnerable for a student and it is in this stage where many exit a university.

Besides the uncertainty and loneliness students feel during their transition from their former high school life to college life, there are likely institutional expectations from the new school they are attending that may not align with their own expectations. During my internship with Academics for Student Athletes (ASA) and working with first year students, I found that students come into college expecting to find the similar level of academic support from their professors as they received from their high school teachers, that their roommates will be their best friends for life, and other unrealistic expectations related to both the academic and social aspects of college. When these expectations are not met, students experience a disagreement with their college experience, and they start to second guess their choices. Tinto and my ASA internship has helped inform on how I can be supporting first year students.

Equally important is support for students as they transition out from higher education. During my undergraduate experience, I took a course that met once a week for a term called ‘The Last Year Experience’, where we had guest speakers who discussed different topics related to transitioning out of college, such as moving home, what to wear on a job interview, budgeting, etc., but most students seemed to have no clue this class existed and no idea what life was going to look like post college. Considering what I have learned during the CSSA program, it is apparent how students typically receive a lot of support when transitioning into college (e.g., orientation, welcome week, club fairs, etc.), but unfortunately have very little support in their transition out. This was also reiterated during the alumni interviews I conducted for my internship with the Alumni Association – alumni shared with me that they felt like Oregon State did little to prepare them for their future work environments, student-debt responsibilities, and did not provide other related life skills required for post college independence. Courses such as the one I took need to me more widely available and advertised to support students in their transition out of a university. Part of the holistic care I believe students need, include assistance for when students are transitioning out from institutions of higher learning.

Transitions are not going to look the same for any one student, either in or out of higher education. However, as student affairs professionals I believe we can teach students the importance of reflecting on and learning from situations such as these for when moments of change like these arise again. By reflecting and learning from past transitions, students can be proactive when preparing for their next transition. Therefore, in addition to formal programs, we can ask students that are facing a transition to consider what issues or situations might arise in their unknown environment and what can be done beforehand to prevent potential negative fallout that they might experience from unknown surprises and become more resilient when experiencing change and transitions.


Higher Education Settings

During my time within higher education (both as an undergraduate student and graduate student as well as a staff member), I have only had experience with one institution and that would be Oregon State University (OSU). OSU is a mid-size, public, land-grant research university and is Oregon’s largest public research university. The university offers more than 200 undergraduate degrees programs and over 100 master’s programs with over 30,000 students attending and over 6,000 faculty and staff members (Oregon State University, 2021). Different sized institutions provide unique experiences for different student populations, as I learned during ‘Programs and Functions in College Student Services’ (CSSA 551). Each institution has their own enrollment numbers, areas they focus on, majors, programs, and functions. Smaller institutions may provide a different community experience for the students – the lower faculty/student ratio at smaller institutions can help foster community, as there can be more interactions. When I completed virtual campus visits for CSSA 551 (Artifact C), it seemed to me during my research that often, at smaller institutions, student leaders will have multiple leadership roles on campus whereas at a larger institution, their involvement may be limited to one that they invest more time and energy into. Different institutional types and sizes will benefit individual students in different ways. For example, recent high school graduates may enroll in community colleges to fulfill general education requirements as they explore what field they would like to study. Their experience will differ greatly from that of a first-year student enrolling in a four-year institution. Community colleges also offer courses that can help students prepare for the academic rigor at a four-year school.

Community colleges have served as instruments to produce vocational training and education for the people within the community since their early development (Cohen & Kisker, 2010). Community colleges have traditionally provided access to the people while serving the local community These institutions have allowed community members to engage in many different educational opportunities including second language learning, introductory business courses, hobby courses, and trade courses. Community colleges bring diverse members of the community together in their pursuit of higher education: a high school student may be taking the same writing or math course as his forty-year-old neighbor. Though their reasons for attending college may be different, they are all learning in a community together.

During ‘Legal Issues in Higher Education’ (CSSA 554), we also learned about the differences institutional types have regarding law and finances. For example, when an institution receives federal funding, it must follow Title IX. This includes the private institutions that enroll student who have federally funded student loans (Kaplin & Lee, 2014). One area I found particularly interesting is student codes of conduct. A substantial difference between public and private institutions may be found in the student conduct codes enforced at each school. Private colleges may require students to sign lifestyle agreements that prohibit affiliating with a church or organization that it sees as immoral. Student codes of conduct and lifestyle agreements serve as a contract and students will have to sign the document if they attend the institution (Kaplin & Lee, 2014). However, this may pose unexpected challenges for students. For example, if a student goes to a private religious institution not expecting for their identity to change (for example, the student begins to realize they identify as LGBTQ+), but they begin to realize that their identity is shifting, attending the institution where policies, personnel, and practice may no longer be welcoming and discriminate against the student, there may be harmful effects to them in the long run. At public institutions anti-discrimination policies are typically more comprehensive and protect students who identify as LGBTQ+ from prejudicial treatment and may even encourage sexuality exploration. Understanding the different, environmental, cultural, financial, and legal aspects of various institutions is important not only for the student, but for student affairs practitioners who help students navigate these institutions and perhaps even potential other institutions, should students need advice on transitioning to a different campus that better meets their needs. In my view of holistic support, this is also an understanding of different institutional types, to better support students.


Technology and Communication

Technology is accelerating the rate at which ideas, relationships, and information are constantly being shared. As such, social media is revolutionizing communication and access to information on both a national and global scale. Mass distribution and the ability to effortlessly share information has influenced many facets of modern life, changing the way we think about, connect to, and engage with social justice and activism. It is important that higher education institutions evolve with communication and technology trends currently happening in the world as it allows them to connect with past, current, future students, parents and staff/faculty or friends of the university. Students are continuously communicating online with their peers and it is important for institutions to join them in conversations. If you think about the #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movements, where hashtags encouraged information sharing, helped spread awareness and provided a space where communities could form, organize, and connect with others experiencing similar things, given the available attention of college-aged students, and the desire of students for “perspective-taking” in the higher education experience, college campuses are fertile ground for targeted audiences of social justice causes and movements. Participating in social justice movements sends messages whether you are communicating about topics or not; silence causes people to make assumptions about where one’s viewpoint may stand and usually sends a negative message or that one may not care about the movement that is happening. The same can be said about organizations such as higher education institutions.

Throughout this program, I have had the chance to experiment with social media platforms in classes – particularly the ‘Transitions’ (CSSA 599) course, where we completed assignments on Twitter and Pinterest (both of which were not my favorite platforms). As more and more becomes accessible online, I have learned that students are bombarded with constant communication, which I have experienced myself. Most students have multiple social media accounts, email accounts, smart phones, laptops, and tablets where information is just constant. In higher education, we are also seeing institutions feeling the pressure to keep up with that technological noise so to speak – there is so much information out there and now most college student groups, sports teams and organizations all have their own social media accounts. While using technology is super convenient and allows information to get out quickly and to mass populations, students are now becoming desensitized to too much of one delivery system, which is also why social media is always changing. Personally as a student, I think universities are overloading students with the amount of technology used, OSU students have to be able to navigate, at minimum,, Canvas, Gmail, Google Docs, and now Microsoft Teams, Box, Zoom, etc., that also does not include the technology that individual professors have us use during classes such as FlipGrid or Kaltura Capture. In my opinion, there is a clear overuse of “the next exciting technology” and that is something that student affairs professionals, faculty and staff need to be aware of. In student services, I think helping students navigate all the platforms and technology that must be used successfully during their college career could be another aspect of holistic care; providing visual how-to’s and/or verbal walkthroughs on how to use these platforms would be beneficial.

Looking ahead it is likely that students will continue to be up to date on the latest and greatest technology. It is incredibly important that the institutions we work for, the departments we work in and the student affairs professionals we are, stay on top of that technology as well to best reach students and communicate with them. I look forward to learning new forms of technology as things progress and inviting students to provide feedback on how they would like me to communicate with them and which platforms to communicate with. I also plan on seeking out professional development opportunities on technology, social media and whichever new topic/platform is used to communicate. I am intrigued to see how technology will change in years to come and as a student and a professional in student affairs, I hope to see a consolidation of platforms used by institutions. Having more platforms as a whole that talk to each other would also be extremely beneficial, especially on the student services side to allow multiple units to speak to each other at once to allow for all-inclusive student care.




Boysen, Guy A. (2012). Teacher and Student Perceptions of Microaggressions in College Classrooms. College Teaching, 60(3), 122–129.

Cohen, A. M. & Kisker, C. B. (2010). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, S. R. & Abes, E. S. (2013). Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, S. R. & McEwen, M. K. (2000). A conceptual model of multiple dimensions of identity. Journal of College Student Development, 41(4), 405-414.

Kaplin, W. A. & Lee, B. A. (2014). The law of higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

LePeau, Lucy A, Morgan, Demetri L, Zimmerman, Hilary B, Snipes, Jeremy T, & Marcotte, Beth A. (2016). Connecting to Get Things Done: A Conceptual Model of the Process Used to Respond to Bias Incidents. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(2), 113–129.

McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents 339 U.S. 637 (1950).

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., & Quaye, S.J. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Russell, M. M. (2002). McLaurin’s seat: The need for racial inclusion in Legal Education. Fordham Law Review, 70(5), 1825-1829.

Tinto, V. (1988). Stages of student departure: Reflections on the longitudinal character of student living. The Journal of Higher Education, 59, 438-455.