Finding Grace: An Exploration of the Impact of Personal and Professional Experience on Leadership Educators in Making Sense of Social Change




Aichele, Anne

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Over the past 30 years, one of the most prevalent models in student leadership education has been the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (SCM), which views leadership as a collaborative, purpose-, and values-driven process working towards positive social change (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996). As issues of social inequity and injustice have become more prevalent in the United States, SCM’s relevance and applicability have been called into question, while the need for intentional, meaningful leadership education has never been more important. Student leadership educators in higher education are responsible for constructing environments where students can acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to create tangible, significant social impact. However, there is a dearth of existing literature examining how these educators understand and define the concept of social change, which ultimately affects how they influence student learning and development. The purpose of this qualitative, heuristic phenomenology is to better understand how the personal and professional experiences of student leadership educators affect college student development, especially surrounding their perceptions of social change. Data were gathered from 11 student leadership educators through journal entries and semi-structured interviews and the analysis utilized a heuristic design, based on the stages of inquiry proposed by Moustakas (1990, 2001). The findings suggest that participants prefer the term social justice, as it more a closely aligns with their understanding of the concept as both a process and outcome that happens at multiple levels to problematize and disrupt inequitable and unjust systems. Leadership is an integral force in driving this change, and leadership education is imperative in helping students be better prepared to engage in the social change process with authenticity and integrity, in order to bring about positive, meaningful, sustainable change. The findings also suggest a number of experiences shape the way participants came to this understanding, along with how they conceptualize their role as leadership educators and their influence on the social change process. Implications for application to the field of leadership education are presented, as are recommendations for future areas of necessary research.



Higher education, Education policy, Heuristic Inquiry, Higher education, Leadership Educator Professional Identity, Qualitative Research, Social Change, Student Leadership Educator