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, a new resource from the Advising Success Network and NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, 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.
NASPA Knowledge Communities, Initiatives, and Events
- African American Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/african-american
- Asian Pacific Islanders Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/asian-pacific-islanders
- Center for First-generation Student Success: https://firstgen.naspa.org/
- Disability Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/disability-knowledge-community
- Formerly Incarcerated Students & System Impacted Families Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/formerly-incarcerated-students-andsystem-impacted-families-knowledge-community
- Gender and Sexuality Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/gender-and-sexuality
- Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/indigenous-peoples
- Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/latinx/a/o
- Middle East North Africa South Asia Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/region/middle-east-north-africa-south-asia-menasa
- Men and Masculinities Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/men-andmasculinities
- NASPA Multicultural Institute: Advancing Equity and Inclusive Practice: https://www.naspa.org/events/naspa-multicultural-institute-advancing-equity-andinclusive-practice1
- Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/socioeconomic-and-class-issues-in-highereducation
- Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/spirituality-and-religion-in-higher-education
- Transracial Adoptee and Multiracial Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/transracial-adoptee-and-multiracial-knowledgecommunity
- Undocumented Immigrants and Allies Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/undocumented-immigrants-and-allies
- Veterans Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/veterans
- Virtual Symposium on Military-Connected Students: https://www.naspa.org/events/naspa-virtualsymposium-on-military-connected-students
- Women in Student Affairs Knowledge Community: https://www.naspa.org/division/women-in-studentaffairs
NASPA Research Reports
- Museaus, S., & Smith, E. J. (2016). The culturally engaging campus environments model and survey. NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. https://www.naspa.org/report/theculturally-engaging-campus-environments-modeland-survey
- Whitley, S. E., Benson, G., & Wesaw, A. (2018). Firstgeneration student success: A landscape analysis of programs and services at four-year institutions. Center for First-generation Student Success, NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and Entangled Solutions. https://firstgen.naspa.org/2018-landscape-analysis
- Adichie, C. N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
- Bonner, A., II, Banda, R. M., Smith, S. L., & Marbley, A. F. (2021). Square pegs round holes: Alternative approaches to diverse college student development theory. Stylus.
- Center for Urban Education. (n.d.). CUE’s racial equity tools. https://www.cue-tools.usc.edu
- Creighton, J. (Host). (2021, March 11). The future of tribal relations in higher education (Season 4, Episode 2) [Audio podcast]. In SA: Voices From the Field. NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. https://www.naspa.org/project/sa-voices-from-thefield
- Gender Spectrum. (n.d.). “The Language of Gender”. Retrieved from https://genderspectrum.org/articles/language-of-gender
- Harper, S. R. (2012). Race without racism: How higher education researchers minimize racist institutional norms. The Review of Higher Education, 36(1), 9–29. https://web-app.usc.edu/web/rossier/publications/231/Harper%20(2012)%20RHE.pdf
- Harper, S. R. (2019). Twelve ways to demonstrate care for people of color. Leadership Exchange, 17(1), 34–37.
- Harper, S. R. (2020). COVID-19 and the racial equity implications of reopening college and university campuses. American Journal of Education, 127(1), 1–10.
- Kezar, A., & Fries-Britt, S. (2018). Speaking truth and acting with integrity: Confronting challenges of campus racial climate. American Council on Education. https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Speaking-Truthand-Acting-with-Integrity.pdf
- Racial Equity Tools. (n.d.). Organizational change process. https://www.racialequitytools.org/resources/act/strategies/organizational-change-process
- Wood, L.J. & Harris III, F. (2021) “Racelighting: Three Common Strategies Racelighters Use”. Diverse Education. https://diverseeducation.com/article/209668/
- Creighton, J. (Host). (2021, March 11). The Future of Tribal Relations in Higher Education. (Season 4 Episode 2) [Audio podcast episode]. In SA: Voices From the Field. NASPA. https://www.naspa.org/project/sa-voices-from-the-field
Share Your Thoughts with NASPA
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.