Defining the Moral Arena within Student Affairs. By: Michael R.Williams

“The learning process comes easy to those of us who teach; who also believes that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believes that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students” – Bell Hooks  (hooks, 1994).

When it comes to excavating the scope of scholar-practitioners there are specific dynamics that must be identified. In the following section, I will outline the moral arena of ethical practices for scholar-practitioners. When building a strong foundation, architects outline the perimeter to form boundaries, to guide the design, and to give fellow workers a course to follow. The same can be said about the Code of Ethics scholar-practitioners must employ. There is literature to suggest scholar-practitioners’ Code of Ethics represents the architectural boundary for new and seasoned student affairs professionals (and academic affairs) to learn, understand, and enact modern ethical practices (Heyneman, 2015).

The following questions must be asked (and answered) when identifying the scope of a scholar-practitioners: (1) “what counts as ethics?” (2) “How is what counts as ethics organized?” (3) “How is what counts as ethics transmitted?” (4) “How is access to what counts as ethics determined?”, and (5) “What are the processes in control of ethics?” An undertone permeating this line of questioning  is the reality of who has the power to decide to ask and answer these questions within the field.  Each of these questions serves to cultivate a perimeter for ethical practice towards scholar-practitioners, allow for identifying the importance of scholarship in research and higher education, and finally positions competencies that may guide scholar-practitioners to help our students grow, intellectually and spiritually at a minimum. Initially, wet set out to define (1) what counts as ethics?

Ethical practices and decision-making skills are transferred through interactions with others in higher education, outside higher education, reading academic literature, and scanning social media (Fried, 2003). With the advances in technology, transmitting ethical knowledge has become easier in many digital spaces. In search of a more authentic and transparent transformation, I have invaded digital spaces by learning the various meaning of ethics from fellow scholar-practitioners on mediums such as GroupMe and Twitter. As mentioned before, the vagueness of ethics can confuse new professionals and governing organizations often set out to cover ethics in broad brush strokes. In as much, the message transmitted must be simple and transparent in any space. In efforts to secure the knowledge of ethics, scholars much engage other practitioners to understand their lens and see where their belief of ethics could apply. Once we do this we can continue the conversation of ethical practice as practitioners and encourage the conversation of applying ethical practices in the workplace.

In the text, Kupo (2014) defines the scholar-practitioner as a well-versed scholar that bridges “theory to practice” and his/her practice is “informed by evidence”. My positionality enables me a stable foundation as a scholar in academia and higher education; my positionality has changed due to me unlearning previous beliefs and  best practices that I believed . I consider it vital to unlearn many of the things we have gathered on this journey in our personal beliefs and practices.  Much of the unlearning process was meaningful in grasping the authentic concepts of education, the value of adding to the body of literature, and with finding gaps in scholarship while sharing the information gained.

To be able to participate in the conversation of what defines a scholar-practitioner, it is important to consider what defines scholarship, the scholarship portion includes original research meant for publication or engaging in research to improve the effectiveness of practices (Kupo, 2014). Since joining the doctoral odyssey, I have noticed my lens and language has changed and I’ve been probing for the interconnectedness of my inquiry and the inquiry of others in the field towards the scholarship. I have searched within the literature to see how my problem of practice aligns itself with others in my cohort (also academia in general) and I have found a direct correlation between the vast numbers of unique inquiries.

I understand the primary objective of scholar-practitioners as the ability to effectively transition the classroom; division; or institution to an ever-greater level of student achievement and stakeholder satisfaction (Bailey, 2014). On the quest to become an efficient scholar-practitioner, the most influential interaction is meeting opposing thoughts regarding my inquiry or the inquiry of others. The exchange of dialogue often allows a person to reconsider some concepts they once held true. I have practiced this method of challenging my positionality by interviewing a fellow colleague. This experience allowed me to see the view and scope of someone else within the profession, and it reassured  my chosen research track, but I also needed to understand different aspects of my current institution. At the end of the interview, my problem of practice became clearly defining what I want to research.  

The summation of this analysis shows the importance of providing scholar-practitioners the ability to assess their understanding of ethics.  I have provided a brief literature review of ethics in scope of moral standards and the task of becoming a scholar-practitioner. In applying a multicultural approach to this analysis, I have found concepts, paradigms, and theories that will challenge mainstream academic knowledge and substantially expand and revise established canons, paradigms, theories and explanations (Banks, J. 2006). I hope by reading and meditating on this blog, the reader to begin to survey their experiences and best practices for advancing the field of education. I also hope that we can finally establish a “Code of Ethics” for scholar-practitioners within Student Affairs and Higher Education.  Special thanks to  Brittany W. for helping me through this process.


Michael R. Williams (He/Him/His), serves as the director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center and doctoral student within the College Professional Studies at Northeastern University. He is active member of NASPA and has presented and the joint conference between NASPA and ACPA. He has continually contributed to the field of men and masculinity while combining digital identity. His research interest includes digital activism, racial and gender identity development, and leadership development.

Twitter: @Commandr_nchief


Bailey, S. (2014). Scholar-Practitioner Leadership: A Conceptual Foundation. International Journal Of Progressive Education, 10(3), 47-59.

Banks, J. A. (2006). Researching race, culture, and difference: Epistemological challenges and possibilities.

Heyneman, S. (2015). The corruption of ethics in higher education. International Higher Education, (62).

Fried, J. (2003). Ethical standards and principles. Student services: A handbook for the profession, 4, 107-127.

Kupo, V. L. (2014). Becoming a Scholar-Practitioner in Student Affairs. New Directions For Student Services, 2014(147), 89-98. doi:10.1002/ss.20103

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