An Exploration of the Social Justice Identity Development of Professional School Counselors Who Advocate for Undocumented Students

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Virginia Tech

Research related to the school counselor's journey to social justice advocacy is minimal. An exploration of the school counselor's journey to social justice advocacy and the impact it has on the counselor's work with students is needed. Furthermore, research related to the needs and challenges of undocumented students have not been explored.

The purpose of this study was to explore the social justice identity development of professional school counselors who identify as advocates for undocumented students through critical incidents. The study is grounded in Bobbie Harro's Cycle of Liberation and Relational Cultural Theory to answer the following research questions: (1) What do school counselors who identify as social justice advocates describe as critical incidents in their social justice identity development when working with undocumented students? (2) How have these critical incidents impacted the social justice identity development of professional school counselors? I enlisted a qualitative approach utilizing the Critical Incident Technique (Flanagan, 1954) to address the research questions.

Six secondary school counselors participated in this study. Five were female, two were white, two were Hispanic, one was African-American, and one was bi-racial. Four were citizens, one was a naturalized citizen and one was a DACA recipient. One had been a school counselor for 1 - 3 years, two for 3-5 years, and 3 had been school counselors for more than 7 years. The critical incidents identified by the participants related to personal experiences such as parental influence, family experiences, and influence of educators; formal learning such as experiential learning and academic learning; past work experiences; and student impact on the counselor.

The school counselor's relationship with an undocumented student or immigrant played a role in the participants social justice identity development. The school counselors' identity development mirrored Harro's (2000) Cycle of Liberation. As a result of the critical incidents provided by the participants, connection and introspection emerged. The connection and introspection liberated the counselor and served as the process towards the counselors' social justice identity development.

social justice, undocumented students, advocacy, identity development, relational cultural theory, cycle of liberation, critical incident technique