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Mid-Level Student Affairs Perspectives on COVID-19: The 2020 Exodus from Campus

Dameian Slocum, Johnson & Wales University


The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic was consequential for higher education (Crawford et al., 2020). As cases of the virus spread across the country in March 2020, colleges and universities faced the reality that continuing normal operations was no longer possible (Binkley, 2020). When schools closed and/or minimized on-ground operations and moved to remote delivery of academics, student affairs mid-level staff were tasked with helping students manage this unprecedented transition (Doyle, 2020; Whitford, 2020). The uniqueness of the crisis for higher education creates an opportunity to study how institutions handled the radical shift. Using Van de Ven's (1986) framework for innovation, this qualitative study explored the perspectives of selected National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region I mid-level managers who led departments during this period. The question that guided this research project was: How did student affairs mid-level managers perceive their roles and responsibilities resulting from the pivot to remote learning during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic? A qualitative interpretive design guided this study (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). The primary data source comprised purposefully selected student affairs mid-level managers in New England (N=10) who were NASPA members. Three instruments were used: interview protocols, reflective questionnaires, and a document analysis rubric. Data collection included Zoom-recorded interviews, reflective questionnaires sent to participants following interviews, and document analysis of interviewees' institutional messaging. Four themes emerged from the data analysis: (1) Going remote: The impact of senior administrative decisions on the exodus from campus, (2) A tsunami of challenges: The impact on students, (3) Snapping into action: Managing in the middle, and (4) The lack of processing: Still feeling the effects of administrative decision directives. The results of this study show that mid-level managers' roles and responsibilities were impacted when senior administrators decided to pivot their campus to remote learning during the pandemic's early stages. Findings further provide insight into what these practitioners experienced during the early months of the crisis, supporting future planning regarding the role of mid-level managers during major institutional events.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Slocum, Dameian, "Mid-Level Student Affairs Perspectives on COVID-19: The 2020 Exodus from Campus" (2021). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI28494578.