Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Changing Places: Narratives of Spiritual Conversion during the First College Year

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart

Second Advisor

Kenneth W. Borland, Jr. (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara R. Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Maureen E. Wilson (Committee Member)


A student 's first year of college study is marked by the transition of leaving a familiar routine of academic, social, and family commitments. Upon arrival at college, a student can learn how to negotiate personal responsibility for intellectual and community development during the first year. New college students are primed for such immense intellectual, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development, and it may include consideration of religious practice and spiritual values, their meaning and relevance, and determination of religious habits and spiritual identity.

This study explored the experiences of spiritual conversion among first-year college students, and how the college environment may contribute to such experiences. Religious and spiritual conversion experiences may reflect a creation, diminishment, strengthening, or transformation of a student 's spiritual identity, and this exploratory study sought to include any of these forms of conversion and the factors that challenge and encourage them. By studying the nature of these experiences in the postsecondary environment, educators may learn more about how the experience of college can affect students before, during, and beyond conversion experiences.

Students were invited to share their stories to illustrate how their spiritual lives were created, diminished, strengthened, or transformed during their first college year. They shared insights into the related challenges and opportunities encountered through feelings of loneliness, community inclusion and exclusion, academic achievements in the midst of personal turmoil, and environmental influences that may have shaped their journeys.

The findings of this inquiry suggested the need for additional opportunities for training for personnel in higher education and student affairs to be more attentive to and better able to support students who are searching spiritually and who may experience a spiritual conversion during the first year of college. These findings demonstrated educators' need to focus on ways in which the college environment can best support safe and healthy student journeys to, through, and beyond the campus. Educators must shape the college environment academically, socially, and spiritually to be a place of change that welcomes and challenges students for success.