NAFSA Formally Joins Boycott of Arizona, Urges Repeal of SB1070

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At the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Annual Conference and Expo this week in Kansas City, Missouri, members and the board of directors approved a resolution formally opposing SB1070, Arizona’s unjust immigration legislation.

NAFSA’s own Everett Egginton, a past president, describes the resolution in a blog post at the NAFSA website:

The resolution calls for the immediate repeal of anti-immigrant legislation by the State of Arizona urges other states to refrain from passing similar measures; asks the U.S. Congress to act quickly to enact comprehensive immigration reform; and resolves the association to not hold national and regional meetings in the State of Arizona until the situation is rectified.


Of course there is great meaning in this resolution for me at personal level as well, related to where I live, work, and seek personal satisfaction in my life. New Mexico, one of Arizona’s neighbors, is a majority-Hispanic state. But it’s not only the Hispanics in New Mexico that are hurt and embarrassed by this legislation; the hurt and embarrassment are felt across the entire state. As such, we as New Mexicans are concerned with the burdens of this legislation on our Arizona colleagues…

As an employee working in higher education (and a student studying it), I am encouraged to see higher education groups mobilizing on this issue. Unfortunately, those opposed to the legislation are in the minority nationally. This makes standing up and speaking out against this legislation even more paramount. Props to NAFSA for taking a stand. Hopefully similar groups follow its lead.

More Critical Thinking, Less Hegemony

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Matt Bai writes an interesting piece in the Times today, noting both how far we’ve come in our various debates since the 1960s, while acknowledging that, in some ways, we have not come far at all.  Bai used the controversies surrounding Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal to make his case.

Why then, to quote the ubiquitous Bono, is our political debate so stuck in a moment it cannot get out of? In part, it is probably because so many of the Americans most engaged in politics — as well as those who run campaigns and comment endlessly on them — are old enough to remember Altamont. It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics.

On a deeper level, though, this all probably has as much to do with our basic human tendency toward moral clarity. As much as conservatives may view the decade as the crucible of moral relativism and the beginning of a breakdown in established social order, there remains something powerfully attractive about the binary, simplistic nature of it all, the idea that one could easily distinguish whether he was for war or against, in favor of equality or opposed.

By contrast, war today seems more a question of degrees and limits, while equality seems less about the laws of the land than about disparities in economic and educational opportunities that are subtler and harder to address. The choices of our moment are not nearly so neat or so satisfying as they were a generation ago, which makes them less useful as a basis for one’s political identity, and harder to encapsulate in some 30-second spot or prime-time rant.

Emphasis is mine.  I find myself agreeing with Bai’s explanation, especially given my work with college students.  Our students today are getting their bachelor’s degree and I would wager that, the way we construct our educational system in this country, a significant number get out of it without having to think critically about issues.  If I’m a student and I have followed external formulas guiding my behavior, never having this behavior challenged, I am not even aware that there is anything other than my cozy dualistic system from which I can choose (Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan would say I am subject in my meaning-making capabilities).  Of course a simplistic, yet disingenuous politics is going to thrive.

In order for us to challenge this lack of preparation we are offering our students, we must challenge the hegemonic structure dictating that campaigns or discussions on public affairs must run this way.  Simultaneously, we must purge ourselves of the assumption that we must go to college to have a chance to learn this.  These are big tasks; these notions unobtrusively penetrate our lives everyday, seducing us to believe that, because its the way things work, we must follow it.  You go to college, get a four degree, and then work somewhere because you are deemed to be bright enough to do so and be a citizen.  There’s a code for it:  it’s “tradition.”  It’s romanticized.  The degree is money, we’re taught.  Yes, our realities are much more contextual than they used to be; our technology, while improving our lives and making them more efficient, gives us a tangential responsibility of learning supplemental skills to be able to cope with the effects of the improvements.

Yet, how many of these college degree-holding, former students come home from work and sit in front of their TVs, allowing the sonorous tones of Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, and/(but most likely) or Keith Olbermann to fill their living rooms?  Many, I’d be willing to bet.  And it’s because “we’re tired.”  We’ve been thinking all day.  We need someone to explain things to us, not help us understand anything more.  And so when Blitzer’s voice gets pitchy with excitement, indelicately discussing stories as complex as the history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the opportunity to parse what he is saying, to explore it, to uncover it, comes and goes.  “Why is this garbage on TV?,” someone might ask.  But given the way we tackle education in this country, we are all too often incapable of answering our own questions.

So when I read Matt Bai’s piece this morning, I couldn’t help but get excited.  A writer for one of the main cogs in this hegemonic structure takes notice of the primary problem — it’s a welcome event.  Yet, until we have younger people willing to challenge the status quo of journalism and education in this country (and older ones courageous enough to assist), our external formulas will rue the day.  Anyone up for the task?

UPDATE: Changed the title to better reflect the post.

William and Mary Student Elected to Williamsburg City Council

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You’ve read about this movement before here.

And now, it’s taken another step forward.

After a failed student campaign a year ago, William and Mary students put together an organization called Students for a Better Williamsburg (SBW), an organization engaging local government in order to provide the best outcomes for students. This effort led to the amendment of a housing ordinance, making it more student friendly and eliminating an issue that divided the town and gown factions in the community for years.

This past spring, a student ran for a Williamsburg city council seat once more. Last Tuesday night, Scott Foster, a graduating senior, dominated the contest.

Foster was elected to the Williamsburg City Council on Tuesday night, becoming the first William & Mary student ever to do so. The 22-year-old said his win was a victory for town and gown relationships.

“Today, the people of Williamsburg demonstrated that our city is truly unified,” Foster said Tuesday night. “When I decided to run for City Council, I hoped to receive the student vote. Now, I have been additionally honored and humbled to have received such strong support from across our City.”

Foster received 1559 votes in the election, 741 more votes than the next finisher, Planning Commission Chairman Doug Pons, who also earned a seat on the council Tuesday night. Five candidates, including one incumbent, ran for the two open positions. According to Foster’s campaign, approximately 67 percent of his votes came from students and the remaining votes came from residents.

Over 1000 William and Mary students voted for their fellow student in the election, ensuring that college students will have a strong voice in the city’s government. Between this victory and the aforementioned organization of Students for a Better Williamsburg, William and Mary students have provided students across the country with a model for organizing within the system to produce positive outcomes.

How did Foster do it? Well, in textbook Millennial fashion. Foster used online social networking to spread the news, and then benefited from a student-coordinated voter registration and GOTV effort on William and Mary’s campus.

Foster benefited from a coordinated get-out-the-vote campaign by William & Mary students. Earlier this year, student organizations, including the Student Assembly, worked to encourage students to vote in the election through a series of registration efforts. Approximately 300 students registered this year as a result of the drive. More than 2,100 students are registered to vote in the City of Williamsburg and early estimates indicate that roughly 50 percent of registered students voted in Tuesday’s election.

On election day, the Student Assembly provided transportation for students between the Sadler Center and the Stryker Building voting location. Sarah Rojas ‘10, outgoing president of the assembly, also sent an e-mail to the College’s students, encouraging them to vote in the election.


Much of Foster’s campaign was run by students who utilized a website and social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Foster also spent a good deal of time meeting city residents.

After his upcoming graduation, Foster plans to continue his studies at William and Mary in 2011, attending the William and Mary Law School.

NAFSA Names Winner in Student Diplomat Video Contest

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NAFSA announced this week that it has named a winner in its Student Diplomat Video Contest. Here’s the release:

Winner Named in Student Diplomat Video Contest

Study Abroad Experience Inspires a Recent Graduate to Help Local Youth Think Globally

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2010 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Abroad View Foundation are pleased to announce Nicole Barrasse, a recent graduate of Keystone College in Pennsylvania, as the winner of the 2009 Student Diplomat Video Contest. During the fall semester, NAFSA and Abroad View watched as students from across the country showed us how their educational experiences abroad shaped them as global citizens, served as bridges to cross-cultural understanding, promoted peace, or positively impacted the local communities in which they studied. After reviewing dozens of entries and narrowing those down to five finalists, we asked the public to vote. More than 1,300 votes were cast and combined with the votes from an expert panel of judges to select the 2009 Student Diplomat.

Nicole’s video tells an inspiring story of cultural understanding and global connections as she gives us a glimpse into her study abroad experience in the small agricultural village of Ladakh, India. Nicole stayed with a host family in the village and spent her days farming and learning the local language and culture. The cultural understanding that Nicole developed through this experience not only allowed her to learn about the Ladakhi people, but also to communicate to them how much she appreciated their culture and way of life.

Nicole came away from this experience not only knowing much more about sustainable farming and the Ladakhi culture, but also understanding what it means to be a citizen of the world. “Ladakh has not only taught me life lessons, but also what it truly means to be connected to the world around you,” she says in her video.

Nicole is now home in Pennsylvania and plans to start a local effort to inspire youth in her community to think more globally.

The Student Diplomat Video Contest was open to undergraduate students who studied abroad during the fall semester or had recently returned from a study abroad experience. Entrants were asked to focus their short videos on how their study abroad experience helped to advance global understanding. In addition to being named the 2009 Student Diplomat, Nicole will be awarded a cash prize of $300.

To read more about the 2009 Student Diplomat, or to watch her video, visit

Here is Nicole’s video:

Liberal Arts Institutions

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While societal observers, particularly those involved with higher education, castigate liberal arts education as being passe, Inside Higher Ed published a piece today by Mary Marcy, provost and vice president of Bard College that made the opposite argument.

Marcy’s thesis regarding the gap between conventional wisdom and actual student attitudes rests on two legs: 1.) Liberal arts education IS conducive to a job search, and 2.) Liberal arts education matches students’ desire for a well-rounded college experience.

There are likely two reasons for this gap between conventional wisdom and student decision making. The first is that the separation of liberal arts education from employment is simply unfounded. Employers consistently say that they want to hire graduates who can write and speak clearly, who are innovative and critical thinkers, and who are sophisticated and comfortable with diversity. While not exclusively the domain of liberal education, these traits are certainly cultivated in a liberal arts environment.

The second probable reason for the persistence of the liberal arts is the focus of students themselves. Today’s traditional college age population is more globally-minded, less interested in work as a means only to material success, more willing to find middle ground on issues that typically lead to bi-modal responses (such as abortion), and entirely comfortable with differences in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

In short, today’s young people are balm to the liberal educator’s soul. Ideally, liberal education should literally do just that – it should be education that liberates, that frees the mind from the vagaries and prejudices of received opinion and limited life experiences.

This generation gets a bad wrap of being too materialistic mainly due to technology’s hold on Millennials. But as Marcy goes on to point out, technology can go with an engaging education targeting the whole person; the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I find it very interesting that “for the first time since 1982, more than 50 percent of first year students identified ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life’ as an important or very important goal of their college experience.” This is a statistic I’ve looked at for a few years now with fascination and pessimism. But with this turning around, perhaps liberal arts is actually due for a comeback much more quickly than we realize.

Ravenstahl Backs off on Student Tax

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In a reversal, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl requested that the Pittsburgh City Council cancel the vote on his proposed tax on Pittsburgh college students. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has asked city council to shelve his proposed tuition tax, saying instead that a broad-based “New Pittsburgh Coalition” will work to solve the city’s pension problem.

The mayor is willing to cancel the tuition tax vote that could have occurred today in spite of the fact that he can’t claim to have landed the $15 million-a-year needed to right the pension fund, nor the $5 million compromise demand he made earlier this month. “This is a leap of faith for all of us,” he conceded, but if successful, it will bring the needed funds — hopefully in time for the 2011 budget, when the city will otherwise face a dire fiscal situation.

For students who were already facing skyrocketing tuition and textbook prices, this tax would have been one more obstacle to gaining access to a college education.

For Ravenstahl’s part, this is a political loss (despite it being a good decision) based on his push for this and his subsequent walk-back. He did not manage to secure any additional funding for the city in exchange for retracting the idea, though he did get assurances from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon that they would increase their yearly donation to the city. Ravenstahl must hope, or in his words exhibit “good faith,” that these donations dent the budget deficit he must erase by 2011.

In the end, though, this is a good decision for the future of Pittsburgh’s college students and educational institutions.

Students for a Better Williamsburg Creating Change

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Remember the group of William and Mary students I wrote about a couple months ago who sought to better connect the student body with the community? They formed Students for a Better Williamsburg, an organization that seeks to engage local government in order to provide the best outcomes for students, and last week they already started to make change.

Until a week ago Thursday night, Williamsburg landlords were restricted by law from allowing more than three people to live in their properties. The consequences aren’t hard to imagine. Realistically, if college students want a fourth person to live in a house, they’re going to attempt it, which brings up the safety issue of not knowing who is in what residence. Furthermore, those houses with four or five bedrooms that by law can only hold three people lead to wasted space. Over 600 houses within Williamsburg contain four or five bedrooms. The three person rule was one of the main obstacles in the town-gown relationship between William and Mary and Williamsburg.

Students for a Better Williamsburg (SBW) and the Student Assembly, though, came together and negotiated with members of the city council. Both groups, working with Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman, crafted a compromise ordinance approved at the council meeting last Thursday, December 10. The ordinance can be viewed here.

The amended ordinance requires that properties within Williamsburg’s four rental inspection districts exceeding 2000 square feet be eligible to allow up to four unrelated tenants with city approval. The properties are also required to contain four parking spots for each tenant. In addition, the same requirements would be extended to B-3 business districts. Landlords would submit their properties to secure the approval of the city’s zoning administrator. Some 49 beds would be added — a minor change on paper — but it’s the start of a dialogue with the council that counts the most for students.

Michael Douglass, one of the co-founders of SBW, remarked upon the ironic contrast in behaviors between the opposed residents and the students supportive of the legislation in an e-mail. One of these residents, Bill Dell, a known opponent of the rule change, expressed unhappiness with the speedy process.

“You all have put things on the table that should be looked over,” resident Bill Dell said, interrupting the vote.

Yet in an August 19 article in the Flat Hat, William and Mary’s student newspaper, one of the planning commissioners remarked upon the need for community participation.

Commissioner Jim Joseph seemed concerned that the community be given ample opportunity to speak.

“We need the participation, yet when the opportunity comes the participation’s not there, and therefore we have to stress that,” he said. “This is a very sensitive issue with a lot of feelings on both sides, and I think we just have to push that as hard as we can to make sure people do participate.”

And in the end, the students were the ones participating with an eye toward compromise.

SBW and the William and Mary Student Assembly demonstrated what can happen with some collaboration and a will to get things done. This is a fantastic example of our brand of youth activism, identifying a need and working the proper channels in a good-faith effort to make change. Yes, things do not always work this smoothly, but in this case, thanks to great leadership and hard work, it did.

Releases by SBW and William and Mary’s Student Assembly are available to read, and video of the council meeting can be viewed here.

Problem-Solving Citizenship in Higher Education


Ira Shor, a critical theorist, explains the importance of democracy to education and vice versa: “A democratic society needs the creativity and intelligence of its people.  The students need a challenging education of high quality that empowers them as thinkers, communicators, and citizens” (Shor, 1992, p. 10).  Unfortunately, higher education and democracy have moved in different directions over the past few decades.  With the onset of consumerism in higher education, students’ and educators’ roles changed, with both disengaging from the other out of fear.  The result, an objectivist streak in our education in recent decades, divides the academy further, leading to a hierarchical view of academic disciplines and campus offices and departments.  Student affairs, in light of the large number of troubles plaguing our global society, can lead the way out of this malaise by viewing students as problem-solving citizens, understanding that each of them possesses a vital and different piece to the solutions we seek as a society.  In this post, I argue that our responsibility as student affairs educators is 1.) to collaborate with the entire campus community to encourage students to explore their identity, their gifts, and their skills, and 2.) to pursue solutions to our problems by empowering our students to connect their diverse identities, ideas, and talents to various opportunities for civic engagement.

In the early days of the United States, Thomas Jefferson saw democracy and education as being inextricably linked.  “Whenever the people are well-informed,” Jefferson noted, “they can be trusted with their own government…whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights” (Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government, 1999).  Over time, scholars like John Dewey continued the tradition of highlighting the democratic principles inherent in education, arguing that participation in school is vital to both learning and democracy (as cited in Shor, 1992).  While the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View did not include fostering an appreciation for democracy as an objective, the 1949 document did.  The authors suggested that the student’s role “as a responsible participant in the societal processes of our American democracy” relied on “his full and balanced maturity,” and served as the “means to the fullest development of his fellow citizens,” suggesting that democratic education was not only vital to the nation’s governance, but also to the student’s peers (Student Personnel Point of View, 1949).  After the influence of in loco parentis faded following the campus activism of the 1960s, the college-student relationship would eventually turn toward a consumer model, in which institutions were increasingly viewed as simply offering services to customers (prospective students and their families) for a price (as cited in Nuss, 2003). This view of higher education limits its meaning to students, dovetailing with the banking system of education Freire laments (as cited in Manning, 1994).  Students (and parents) paid for an education, and the college/university was expected to put its best product forward.  Increased standardization also led to gross generalizations of students, ignoring their individuality and treating them like pawns all in an attempt to please the consumers.

In 1954, Esther Lloyd-Jones observed similar trends in higher education.  At that time, specialization was threatening the field of student affairs.  In “Changing Concepts of Student Personnel Work,” Lloyd-Jones reframed the debate.

… [S]tudent personnel workers should not so much be expert technicians as they should be educators in a somewhat unconventional and new sense.  Student personnel workers have many opportunities through their work to contribute to the development of students, to help them learn many lessons and skills of vital importance for their fulfillment as whole persons within a democratic society. (pp. 12-13)

Lloyd-Jones’s writing from over fifty years ago is applicable to higher education’s present position.   Educators and students, both paralyzed by fear, choose to disengage from the educational process, deciding the path of least resistance (the banking system of education) is more desirable than facing the “other” (Palmer, 1998, p. 48).  These decisions plague our higher education system by rendering student and teachers callous to each other, leading to the system’s value of objectivity – the notion that one must separate his or her own reality from a subject in order to appropriately learn it.  Parker Palmer (1998) traces our hierarchy of academic disciplines back to objectivity.  With objectivism,

…[A]ny way of knowing that requires subjective involvement between the knower and the known is regarded as primitive, unreliable, and even dangerous.  The intuitive is regarded as irrational, true feeling is dismissed as sentimental, the imagination is seen as chaotic and unruly, and storytelling is labeled as personal and pointless. ( p. 52)

The notion that chemistry and/or biology is more difficult to pursue as a major than music and/or art is an example of this hierarchy at work.  Another example might be faculty noting that student affairs staff deal with “all the touchy-feely stuff.”  In both scenarios, the objectivist subverts the subjectivists’ relevance in higher education.  Is it any wonder why distrust between academic departments and between the academy and student affairs abounds?

In order to correct this, we must pledge to embark on a seriously difficult mission to change the culture surrounding higher education starting with students.  The impact of fear on both the educator and the student demands that we initiate an effort to address it, similar to the way Palmer (1988) suggests, and Shor (1992) does.  Following these conversations, it is imperative students see themselves in their educational activities and feel that every contribution they make to their educational environment is valued (hooks, 1994).  Shor’s experience taught him that “[his] students are complicated people whose authentic personalities can emerge in the context of meaningful work” (1992, p. 8).  As student affairs educators, we have the responsibility of filling the gaps between our students and ourselves and coaching our students in the process of finding that meaningful work.

Given the complex issues facing our society discussed earlier and the profession’s recent emphasis on educating the whole student using all of higher education’s resources, these corrective steps would best be pursued through a goal of developing citizen problem-solvers.  The mundane exercises associated with learning are passé in these challenging times.  In order for colleges and universities to send forth the best students to grapple with our complex problems, we need to educate them within the complexity of their lives (as cited in Manning 1994).  Embracing a problem-solving approach to learning would be appropriate if we seek to rid higher education of the “mind/body split” that compartmentalizes intellectual discussion from one’s public actions (hooks, 1994, p. 16).  A problem-solving approach would require the construction of deep and sustainable relationships between student affairs educators and the rest of the faculty, staff, and administration; a problem-solving-based model would necessitate an emphasis on the common good, meaning that students would see departments and offices role model this approach by collectivizing agendas as much as possible and placing the institution’s mission (which would ideally emphasize problem-solving) above their own.  In addition to the construction of strong relationships, a problem-solving approach would encourage student affairs educators to create Freirian relationships with students; with an emphasis on community problem-solving, student/teacher and teacher/student “learn from and teach each other” – “doing ‘with’ rather than ‘for'” (as cited in Manning 1994, p. 95).

Citizen problem-solvers obviously could not step into a college experience and be prepared to excel.  In order to face society’s problems today, our students must first begin the process of understanding and exploring their identity, their values, and how they view difference.  In addition, the educational nature of problem-solving demands from students the ability to see an issue from another’s perspective.  Following these tough lessons, students also need to learn about power and privilege, the source of many of the problems our students will be trying to solve.  Gaining a “critical cultural perspective” would allow students to understand the role “political, cultural, and economic forces” play in determining one’s place in society (Rhoads & Black, 1995, p. 417), and would also permit students to realize that knowledge is not absolute power unless one has the ability to change their place in life (Shor, 1992).  Under a critical cultural perspective, the campus takes on new qualities:  inclusiveness of everyone, collaborative decision-making as the standard, and a resistance of hierarchy.  A transformed college campus would be far more supportive of problem-solving efforts, especially any effort liberating the oppressed on the margins of society from injustice (Rhoads &  Black, 1995).

A “citizen problem-solver” could not rely solely on gaining a critical cultural perspective to find solutions.  As Shor reminds us, “…understanding reality is not the same thing as changing it” (1992, p. 6).  Student affairs educators have the responsibility, then, of working with students to identify appropriate ways of acting on their newfound knowledge to solve problems.  Possibilities include the various pathways included in democracy, like social action (such as protesting, boycotting, or informing others) and political action (such as voting, campaigning, or contacting one’s representative).  Other possibilities include modeling the same behaviors within corporations or other organizations.  The idea is that students are able to tailor their interests and skills to the appropriate pathway, while working in conjunction with other community members to solve the larger problem, an issue they identified and articulated themselves.

In the final analysis, higher education is at a crossroads.   Consumerism has transformed higher education into an institution with little meaning compared to its past.  Educators and students, both fearful of the “other,” turn to objectivist knowledge, safeguarding their vulnerabilities and thereby compartmentalizing their individuality.  A strong effort by student affairs professionals to fill the gap between students and educators by directly addressing these fears is absolutely necessary.  Students’ must be able to see their complexities, skills, and talents, in their educational activities.  Given the large number of problems facing today’s society, utilizing a problem-solving-based approach to reinvigorate higher education for students and educators alike is appropriate.  Using problem-solving as the central concept of student affairs encourages students to engage in self-reflection, pursue cultural proficiency, and understand how they can use their particular talents to create positive change.


hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Lloyd-Jones, E. & Smith, M. (1954). Student personnel work as deeper teaching. New York: Harper. Manning, K. (1994). Liberation theology and student affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 94-97.

Nuss, E. M. (2003). The development of student affairs. In Komives, S.R. & Woodard, D. B. Jr. (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 65-88). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Rhoads, R.A., & Black, M.A. (1995). Student affairs practitioners as transformative educators: Advancing a critical cultural perspective. Journal of College Student Development, 36, 413-421.

Shor, I. (1992). Empowering education. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Student Personnel Point of View (1949). Retrieved September 16, 2009. Web site:

Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government (1999). Educating the People. Retrieved October 6, 2009. Web site:

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