Compelled to Act: The Negotiation of Compassion Fatigue Among Student Affairs Professionals




Stoves, Douglas R.


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The purpose of the qualitative study was to identify the ways in which Student Affairs professionals in higher education in South Texas experienced and negotiated compassion fatigue through their everyday responsibilities. Research questions explored the development and experience of, and coping with, compassion fatigue. Grounded in Constructivist Self Development Theory, the experiences of thirteen Student Affairs professionals from post-secondary institutions located in South Texas were examined. Data collection included interviews, visual analysis of photographs, observations, documentation, and reflexive journaling. Using Grounded Theory techniques to perform an inductive analysis, three themes were identified. First, Relationship Building and Locus of Control focused on the role of loci of control (internal and external) in relationship building. Those who seemed to exhibit characteristics consistent with having an internal locus of control appeared to need an emotional connection and a lasting relationship with their students. Second, Relational, Conditional and Transitional Profiles and Compassion Fatigue further differentiated the participants by how they would connect with their students and if the nature of the interaction could lead to an experience of compassion fatigue. It seemed that those who more readily connected emotionally to the student's problem were more likely to experience compassion fatigue than those who did not. Third, Building Capacity and Identifying Solutions focused on experiences that resembled compassion fatigue, exploring how the participants engaged in a process of self-reflection and development of solutions that would allow them to utilize these new skills in similar situations in the future.

The implications of this study raise questions about the way professionals understand services are delivered to students at post-secondary institutions within the context of the roles played by those within Student Affairs. Specifically, this study calls for a critical dialogue about building capacity among Student Affairs professionals as they engage in multiple roles serving students. Additionally, there needs to be a deeper understanding developed by Student Affairs professionals to identify the various ways they can experience potential exposure to compassion fatigue so that those conditions can be mitigated. The implications of this study further call for addressing attrition in this profession by creating supportive work environments.


Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of DOCTOR OF EDUCATION in EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP


building capacity, burnout, compassion fatigue, higher education, locus of control, student affairs



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