(Mis)Understanding Students: Approaches to Affirming Student Identities (2022 Update)

Published: April 7, 2022

As institutions seek to improve their structures, processes, and policies, a holistic lens—one that takes into account students’ intersecting identities and differences in lived experiences—is required.

(Mis)Understanding Students, updated in 2022, is a resource from the Advising Success Network and NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education which offers resources and questions to consider for institutional leaders looking to reflect on their unique student population.

Synthesizing learnings from interviews with practitioners in the field of higher education and the student affairs profession and an examination of existing scholarship, the guide offers a national, field-level context for this moment in time. Institutional leaders can draw upon the guide’s key principles for learning about students with a more holistic and intersectional lens, as well as common misunderstandings about student identities. Considerations presented in this resource can help inform approaches to identifying institutional systems and practices that cause harm to students and campus communities. 

While the guide has relevance for understanding students broadly, it primarily focuses on a limited number of student identities, namely those related to: race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, social class, first-generation status, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, immigration status, veteran status, and involvement with the carceral system.

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Developing a praxis of understanding about students’ socially and culturally constructed identities has no fixed arrival point; it requires continual learning, listening, and updating of knowledge. As we have learned about intersectionality over the past ten years, it is likely that some language and approaches in this guide will need updating over time. It is also likely that we missed something.

If you are interested in sharing additional resources or if there is additional context you would like administrators to know about student identities, please email us at [email protected]. The NASPA team will review resources to continually update this page.