Nevitt Sanford is one of my favorite student affairs theorists. Sanford’s (1967) theory on student development was based upon providing a balance of challenge and support. Too much support with too little challenge creates a cushy environment for the student, where development is unlikely to occur. However, the opposite of too little support with too much challenge also makes development an impossible and negative experience.
Sanford was a political and social psychologist and instrumental in defining how prejudices and racism are defined early in childhood. His The Authoritarian Personality is a classic work in understanding the issues behind the Holocaust. Sanford engaged in a decade long academic freedom lawsuit with the University of California when he refused to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy era.
If we could punish people with extremely unpopular opinions then we could silence people with less unpopular opinions. ~Nevitt Sanford
It was Sanford’s work in student development theory that defines my philosophy for student affairs. Sanford pushed for colleges and universities to provide access and service to those for whom higher education may be out of reach. He challenged us to consider what education would look like if colleges enrolled students whom they could help the most, rather than compete for the students who boosted academic rankings and visibility.
What theorist or theory defines your work in student affairs?
Sanford, N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York, NY: Harper.
Sanford, N. (1967). Self & society: social change and individual development. New York, NY: Atherton Press.