Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Thomas O'Brien

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Holly A. Foster

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Lilian H. Hill

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. James W. Thomas

Committee Member 4 School



This qualitative study investigated how student affairs professionals (SAPs) assist undocumented students in their designated institutional roles, and how their support empowers undocumented students to persist. This research sought to document and assess how student affairs professionals—who interact with undocumented students— identify and respond to the issues they face in their work. Built on the theoretical frame of social capital, and using a thematic analysis design set forth by Braun and Clarke (2012), the researcher interviewed seven SAPs and used a phenomenological approach to design the study and to collect and analyze the data.

Two findings and five corresponding themes emerged from the research. The first finding was that these student affairs professionals have a strong desire to support undocumented students and use various strategies to accomplish their goal. Three themes emerged from finding one. Theme one was that SAPs identify rapport-building as a strategy to assist undocumented students. Theme two demonstrated how forming and using connections with partners was reported to be beneficial to assisting undocumented students. Theme three demonstrated how participants use their skills to advocate for undocumented students.

Finding two was that these student affairs professionals reported facing similar obstacles in their efforts to assist undocumented students. Two themes emerged from finding two. Theme one was how limited or unclear institutional policies can hinder the effectiveness of SAPs in their work with undocumented students. Theme two documented how these SAPs perceive institutional support, resources, and training to assist undocumented students. The findings also show that these seven SAPs experience similar challenges in their work with undocumented students, and these challenges are not dissimilar to those faced by undocumented students themselves. Despite these obstacle and challenges, findings reveal that these student affairs professionals are committed to their work and seek to find solutions and create avenues to empower undocumented students to persist. Additionally, the data revealed the accompanying ancillary findings and considerations that are worth mentioning: (a) intersecting identity with first-generation students and (b) covertly assisting undocumented students.