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Voices of the Global Community


Jane Elizabeth Pizzolato, 2004 NACADA Student Research Award Recipient

Editor’s Note: The following was adapted from Jane Pizzolato’s keynote address at the NACADA Region 2 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, April 16, 2008.

I come from a background where like everyone is like a doctor, lawyer, and if, and I guess like my culture always instilled in me that you have to be something like that. Like if I wanted to do anything lower, it was like not even an option…I wanted to be a wedding planner, and wedding planner and dentist—what I’m actually becoming—it’s like two different things, and like dentistry, I guess it’s becoming my passion, but like choosing to become a dentist, if I look back, it’s more of what they wanted for sure – Tan, a student (personal communication).

Jane Pizzolato.jpgTan’s statement here captures the pressures many college students face—parental pressure, cultural expectations, and balancing of these with personal interests. In order for college students to learn to create a balance, and do so in a way that is culturally sensitive as well as intrinsically satisfying, students likely need some help. The necessity of such help is clear from the research on college student development. Such research suggests that college students tend to enter college believing in clear right and wrong, good and bad, and dependence on authorities for determining which is which (Baxter Magolda, 1992; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; King & Kitchener, 1994; Perry, 1968). Furthermore, students make little progress toward more complex ways of meaning making during their college years. For example, out of Baxter Magolda’s (1992) 101 participants, only two left college able to see that right and wrong were determined by context and social construction of knowledge based on consideration of multiple perspectives. For students who are trying to cope with cultural and parental pressure, being able to see and balance multiple perspectives is an important step in aspiration identification and achievement.

Baxter Magolda’s (2001) Learning Partnerships Model (LPM) provides a three-principled heuristic for implementing interactive and engaged advising that may help advisors help students who are in need of learning to balance multiple perspectives. The three principles are: (1) validate students as knowers, (2) situate learning in students’ experiences, and (3) define learning as mutually constructing meaning. In sum, implementing the LPM means that advisors help students see themselves able to make decisions and know what might be good for them; that they learn these lessons through situating conversations about meaning making and decision making in students’ lived experiences; and that advising be conversational and focused on advisor and advisee working together, asking questions, and evaluating options. By practicing more complex meaning making strategies in advising relationships, college students may learn the skills to be able to successfully navigate competing and high stakes expectations of them.

Implementation of the LPM with diverse college students, however, requires recognition of cultural differences. Culturally sensitive implementation of the LPM is particularly important when working with students for whom traditional notions of autonomy are not salient. In other words, while separation from family and individuation are key developmental tasks for many college students (Chickering & Reisser, 1993), for some students this is not the case, and yet it still does not mean that these students should be forced to merely submit to parental or cultural expectations. Culturally sensitive revisions to the LPM for advising are outlined below.

  • Validate Students as Knowers: In validating students as knowers, it is important to consider interdependence in addition to autonomy. Learning to not just separate (autonomy), but rather to see themselves as an important player within the collective group with which they most identify (interdependence) is key. For example, some Asian students may see their role within the family unit as paramount. Validating the importance of this value while also helping students see that they are not merely cogs, but key players in the collective is useful in validating such students as knowers.
  • Situate Learning in Students’ Experiences: Here it is necessary to consider what counts as “in students’ experiences.” Typically “in students’ experiences” has been considered students’ experiences in college. Especially for commuter students, first-generation students, and students from Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Latino or Latina families, students’ experiences are broader. Family is a key context for development, and so when advising, being sure to include students’ family experiences may be useful.
  • Define Learning as Mutually Constructing Meaning: For many students who come from cultures that value authority and have hierarchies of power within families and teacher-student relationships, mutually constructing meaning may be a new concept. For students who not only expect answers and formulas from advisors, but who also see their own role as absorbing information from others rather than constructing knowledge, teaching students the skills for engaging in mutual construction of meaning may be an important starting place. For example, teaching students to begin to identify what options exist in any given situation is a first step in mutually determining the best course of action. Additionally, advisors may be able to start students engaging in mutually constructing meaning by helping them figure out the key values that they harbor and why they espouse these. Clarifying the base from which students make meaning will be useful in helping them evaluate options that exist.

Broadly speaking, academic advisors have a unique opportunity to promote culturally relevant student development. Because advisors can have 1:1 relationships with students, they can tailor interactions and instruction to the specific developmental and cultural needs of each individual student with whom they work. Although existing models such as the LPM provide a foundation for tailoring advising to promote development of complex meaning making and decision making skills, considering the cultural background of individual students is necessary in providing the most effective and relevant advice.

Jane Elizabeth Pizzolato
Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
University of California – Los Angeles

Cite this article using APA style as: Pizzolato, J.E. (2008, September). On being good company: Cultural considerations in learning partnerships for advising. Academic Advising Today, 31(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.