Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Mid-Level Student Affairs Professionals’ Perceptions of Spirituality: A Phenomenological Study

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael Coomes (Advisor)


This study was predicated on several ideas with the main one being that spirituality should be an intentional component of student affairs work. However, little is known about student affairs professionals' perceptions about this topic. The purpose of this study was to engage mid-level student affairs professionals in dialogue to explore the nature of spirituality (one's sacred and personal journey or quest to find meaning and purpose in life) as a component of professional responsibility in student affairs work. The study examined: (a) professionals' personal constructions of spirituality, (b) the role of spirituality in the philosophy and practice of student affairs professionals, and (c) how student affairs professionals communicated their personal and professional constructions of spirituality to students. Given the nature of spirituality and student affairs professionals, a phenomenological approach was chosen. The researcher discerned the essences of spirituality for these participants by interviewing five mid-level student affairs professionals, reflecting on their individual ideas pertaining to the events or occurrences they described, and developing a composite view that best reflected the shared meanings of the participants. Profiles of the five participants and the institutions at which they work are provided. The researcher presents: (a) three themes that influenced the professionals regarding their spiritual definitions and beliefs: spiritual upbringing, spiritual guides, and spiritual journeys, (b) common perceptions that appeared among the participant's thoughts and experiences, (c) three themes derived from the actions, experiences, and observations of the participants regarding their ability to influence students' spirituality: role modeling, spiritual interventions, and serving as spiritual guides, and (d) how the campus context influenced these participants' thoughts and actions regarding spirituality. The sum of all the themes and commonalities are important to mid-level student affairs professionals' perceptions of spirituality. As such, a model is presented to explain how the respondents integrated their understanding of spirituality into a complex perspective on their role as professionals.