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Student Affairs Philosophy Statement

Joshua Hutchinson

Northern Illinois University


The field of student affairs is vast, complicated, and seemingly all encompassing. This

vastness allows for individuals from all types of backgrounds, experiences and interests to find a

professional passion and home within student affairs. However, the size and scope of the field

can also be very confusing and intimidating to those who are new to it. Because of this, it is

important for new students and professionals to create their own student affairs philosophy

statements. These statements serve as an explanation of the practitioner’s understanding of

student affairs and its role in higher education, as well as outline how the practitioner works to

promote this role. When thinking about defining my own philosophy about student affairs, I find

it easiest to conceptualize by imagining the conversations that I have with family and friends

about what I do for a living. This tends to be a common experience shared amongst almost every

student affairs professional and the explanations utilized in these conversations can serve as an

excellent foundation for what student affairs is at its core.

When asked what I do, or, more frequently, when I’m combating misconceptions about

what I do, I always find myself using a simple answer. “I help students.” I feel that these three

words perfectly sum up my role as a student affairs professional. No convoluted titles, no

confusing job descriptions, no complicated divisional organizational charts, and no theories

constructed more than 30 years ago that only work to put students into definable boxes. While

all of these play a role in providing structure and substance to the field, they are interchangeable,

and should all build upon the goal of helping students. When all is said and done, every student

affairs practitioner should be able to say that they have helped students, regardless of their role

on campus.

While saying that “I help students” serves as a good starting point, without further

context it can come across as vague and condescending. As most people I have had this

discussion with tend to operate under the assumption that I have become a college professor or

teacher assistant, the second step of my conversation centers around the relationship between

student affairs and academics. A popular saying is that student affairs professionals work with

students on everything that happens outside the classroom. While this is true, I feel as though it

undersells the role of student affairs and creates a subordinate relationship between student

affairs and academics.

This isn’t to say that the academic programs of a university aren’t important, but that the

experiences and development gained through student affairs’ initiatives can have an equal,

sometimes greater, impact on students’. Because of this, I prefer to say that student affairs

provides education and development outside of the classroom. These educational and

developmental experiences often serve as supplemental learning that can often work parallel to

what students are doing in the classroom, and allow students access to practical applications of

their academic skills. Ideally, student affairs should strive to work in cooperation and

collaboration with academic affairs, should also work to educate students beyond simply what

they are learning in their classes in order to create well rounded individuals.

At this point in the conversation, my family and friends tend to ask what educational and

developmental things I do to help students then. I believe that a key component to educating

student both inside and outside the classroom, is to ensure that students have access to that

education. Within the American higher education system, students must overcome many hurdles

just to gain acceptance to many institutions of higher learning. Issues of race, gender,

socioeconomic standings, family and community culture, and first-generation students are just

some of the contributing factors that limit students’ ability to gain access to and succeed in

college. As student affairs practitioners, we have the ability to stand as the biggest proponents

for higher education for all and are best placed within our positions to work to help students

navigate and dismantle the obstacles and systems that can prevent them from gaining access and

matriculating through the higher education system.

With all of this information serving as a foundation for the understanding of what student

affairs is, its purpose, and how practitioners work to achieve that purpose, we finally arrive at the

original question that started it all. What is it that I do? What is my purpose, and how do I work

to achieve it? I believe that my role is to help students discover their potential for leadership and

advocacy, both for themselves and their peers. I challenge students to take ownership of their

college experience and use it to shape and impact the experiences of others for the better. I do

this by facilitating student leadership and organizational programs and initiatives. I believe that

the best outcomes for students are achieved when students engage in their own meaning making

and arrive at their own solutions to problems, as in my experience they tend to be more

supportive and committed to initiatives when they had a hand in creating them and feel heard.

I help cultivate and guide these experiences by participating as an organizational advisor.

In my position I often find myself asking questions as opposed offering answers, which provides

space and the need for students to create those answers. While this differs in the services

provided by other student affairs practitioners who work to provide students with answers and

connect them to resources, I have seen my advising approach create a more holistic opportunity

for learning, growth, and development.

Generally, at this point in the conversation my family either pretends to understand what

I do for a living or has embraced some new misconception about the work of student affairs

practitioners. However, I leave every one of these conversations with a better understanding of

my beliefs and values, and having learned more about the role that I play helping students

navigate the chaotic world of higher education.