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The Institutionalization of Catholic Culture through the Student Life Office Open Access

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Abstract of the DissertationThe Institutionalization of Catholic Culture through the Student Life OfficeThe main research question of this study was: How do student life offices at four diverse Catholic colleges and universities create an environment that is expressive of a Catholic way of life? This research question was operationalized by two research sub questions: How do senior student affairs officers, mid-level student affairs officers, and student leaders understand and articulate the Catholic culture of their institution? How is Catholic culture manifested in the student life office policies, programs, and cultural activities of diverse Catholic institutions? To date, few studies have attempted to explore and compare the role student life offices play in the greater institutionalization of Catholic culture at Catholic colleges and universities. This study aimed to contribute to the literature in Catholic higher education by providing educational and administrational insights about how the student life office assists in the development of Catholic culture in Catholic colleges and universities. This qualitative research used a multiple case study approach to answer the research questions. Data was collected through interviews with the senior student affairs officer, mid-level student affairs officer, and with students in leadership positions. Document analysis was conducted on institutional publications and observations of campus life were used to better understand the ethos on campus. Four small to medium size institutions were purposefully chosen based on an established set of criteria from Morey and Piderit's (2006) Catholic culture model. Findings were presented within case and cross-case. Schein's (2004) organizational culture model was utilized to provide further cultural analysis among Catholic models in the cross-case comparison.The data demonstrated that the student life office was a highly visible manifestation of the Church's teaching; it is where the Catholic mission and identity were incarnated. The researcher discerned six major themes that captured how the student life office contributed to the Catholic culture of its institution: 1) Advocating Social Justice, 2) Inclusive Communities, 3) Students' Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual Development, 4) Student Affairs' Philosophy and Catholic Identity, 5) Mission Consonance, and 6) Big "C" Catholic vs. Small "c" Catholic.This study revealed the following noteworthy areas: 1) understanding of how student life offices define and pursue Catholic culture, 2) understanding of how student leaders perceive the role of the student life office in promoting Catholic culture, 3) applicability of Morey and Piderit's (2006) model, 4) connection of this understanding to the Principles of Best Practice for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities, and 5) contribution to the literature on how the student life office expresses and promotes Catholic culture.

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