Professional identity in Canadian student affairs and services




Massey, Kyle Donald

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The professionalization of Canadian student affairs and services (SAS) has evolved in the last few decades, but little is known about the nature of professional identity among practitioners in the field or how they develop an understanding of their professional identity. This dissertation seeks to address this gap in the literature and achieve a greater understanding of Canadian student affairs and services practitioners by focusing on an analysis of their professional identities. To achieve these aims, this study utilized a qualitative approach grounded in a constructivist epistemology. Identity theory as understood from the symbolic interactionist perspective provides the theoretical framework for this dissertation, defining identity as “what it means to be who one is.” Twenty-five participants completed an online questionnaire and a one-on-one interview. Participants included student affairs and services professionals from across Canada, in a range of SAS roles at various post-secondary institutions, including both colleges and universities of various types. Questionnaires and interviews were conducted in both English and French; an interpreter was used to assist with French-language components. I found that for most participants, their overall professional identity as a student affairs professional was their dominant identity, characterized by a suite of identity meanings and inclusive of one or more sub-identities. Depending on the specific person and the context in which they were operating, the multiple sub-identities were ranked at varying levels of identity prominence and identity salience. The interview data revealed SAS professionals enter the field through direct and indirect pathways, creating significant diversity among practitioners’ backgrounds, skills, and experience. The misconceptions many outside of the profession have about SAS, and the professional marginalization SAS practitioners often encounter were found to characterize the context in which a professional identity is constructed. The findings include a discussion of the various specific factors impacting the development of professional identity in Canadian student affairs and services. I also offer recommendations for practice and suggestions for future research.


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