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Strategic Plan Foundational Statements


Building just, healthy, and meaningful student learning experiences.

Our vision is our continual aspiration – that constant “to what end” that we strive for in our work. For us, this work is also something that requires our specific expertise. Much like faculty members bring their own expertise into the classroom, Student Affairs brings a knowledge of and proficiency about our students and their needs. This allows Northwestern to fulfill its own purpose and mission as it relates to the education and experiences of our students.

The words in the vision statement were selected intentionally. The use of “building” is purposeful – as it is an all-encompassing verb that connects the front-facing student connections with the importance of the work done by our teams behind the scenes. Without strong infrastructure, a building will not stand. Without direct engagement with our students, a program will not be successful. Without inclusive and engaging environments (physical and virtual), our students cannot connect, engage, and/or learn in a healthy and meaningful way. “Building” also relies on many people – in and outside of our division – to truly construct something sustainable and meaningful. This speaks to the necessary partnerships critical for our students to thrive.         

“Just” is rooted in social justice, a commitment at the core of any Student Affairs professional, and most certainly for our division. “Healthy” connects our work to well-being – for our students as well as for our team. “Meaningful” refers to the kind of student learning experience we want to build – those that our students can learn from, connect with, and in which they grow. Combined together, this vision statement keeps us focused on creating, developing, facilitating, advocating for, and ensuring those meaningful student experiences are truly rooted in social justice and grounded in well-being.


Student Affairs cultivates student programs, services, and skills; disrupts barriers; and partners across Northwestern and neighboring communities to create a culture in which all students can thrive.

The mission of our division is the “what” behind what we do. Our previous mission, to “educate our students, engage the community, and enrich the Northwestern experience” needed to evolve as our student needs have evolved over time. The mission also keeps us focused on what we should be doing daily.

Again, the words in the mission statement were chosen quite specifically. “Cultivate” is not unidirectional or one way – it involves agency and connection with our students through the arc of their development. One cannot impart progress on a student – they must be fully engaged participants in that process. Furthermore, Student Affairs does not simply “provide” things to our students; rather, - we intentionally engage our students in program and service design, as “people care about what they help create” (Rue, 2016).

“Disrupts barriers” is more encompassing than our former terminology of “removes barriers”. “Disrupt” is intentionally paired with “barriers” to signify our role in eliminating things that impede student growth, development, and full engagement at Northwestern. While we understand that the word “disrupt” can be interpreted negatively, it is not meant to be in this context.  The definition of disrupt embraced by our mission is one that focuses on successfully challenging and changing established processes or services that are not inclusive. “Disrupt” involves discovering, naming, and advocating for systemic change, and offering alternative, inclusive approaches so that systems can be redesigned in an equitable and just manner. Additionally, these barriers to student learning and experience, which exist within both Student Affairs and the university at large, need to be identified and changed in order to make progress toward the development of a just and equitable Northwestern community.

We also intentionally use “thrive” in this mission statement. Thriving is a measurable outcome that takes into account each student’s current state, honors their unique gifts, talents, and dreams, and with that student’s partnership with our team, helps them grow into what they can be in a healthy and meaningful way. This culture – this environment – that we co-create with our students, our partners, and our full Northwestern community – is one in which students can find their passions, their voice, and their direction. In short – while at Northwestern, they thrive.

Strategic Themes

Champion Holistic Well-being
We advocate for and cultivate healthy conditions, with cultural humility and cultural responsiveness, in which all community members can thrive.

This first strategic theme focuses on well-being. Well-being, at its core, is critical for students to be healthy, well, and to thrive at Northwestern. As experts in well-being, Student Affairs’ role is to both advocate for and cultivate critical healthy conditions. These could be in the areas of community safety or any of the dimensions of wellness outlined by Northwestern. We use “holistic” to also embrace that well-being is more than physical and mental wellness: it also is multi-dimensional, a life-long journey, and considers the unique needs of the individual. “Holistic” also encompasses that this is not a reactive-only approach. True well-being begins far before the onset of a crisis, in helping our community understand all that is entailed in well-being, and the role that both community and individuals play in this area.

In this theme, we refer to cultural humility and cultural responsiveness as ways in which we will advocate for and cultivate healthy conditions. According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST), “cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures.” It centers the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings, 1994). “Cultural humility”, as defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about others’ culture, but starts with an examination of their own beliefs and identities.” This framing grounds well-being in equity and justice, and ensures that the cultivated conditions are those in which all community members can engage.  

Foster Meaningful Student Engagement
We create intentional opportunities and conditions for purposeful student growth.

Student growth and development is central to the core of our work as Student Affairs. How we do this work, however, isn’t simply by “providing” or “facilitating” experiences – rather, we create them. This is done by the division, in partnership with students, in concert with families, and in true collaboration within Northwestern and/or in our larger community. Student engagement must be meaningful and purposeful. They are rooted in the eight key principles of High Impact Practices and in the outcomes/recommendations found via Project DEEP, both of which are concepts that grew out of research around student engagement.

This strategic theme also identifies “opportunities and conditions,” rather than experiences. Opportunities speaks to programs and services – and calls into the equation student agency as they determine what is best for them. “Conditions” speaks to the environment – whether that be physical, virtual, or programmatic – in which purposeful growth can occur. These are also “intentional” – requiring us to be mindful of the many factors impacting students at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, professional) so that they may grow.

Invest in Organizational Development
We commit time and effort, along with human and fiscal resources, to nurture a thriving division.

This strategic theme focuses on our organization and its people, and moves beyond simply cultivating a healthy organizational environment to developing an intentional, investment-based approach into the true health, well-being, capacity, and growth of the division’s people, process, and strategy. As defined by the Association for Talent Development, “Organizational Development” is defined as an effort that focused on improving an organization’s capability through the alignment of strategy, structure, people, rewards, metrics, and management processes. It is a science-backed, interdisciplinary field rooted in psychology, culture, innovation, social sciences, adult education, human resource management, change management, organization behavior, and research analysis and design (“Organization Development”, n.d., para. 1).  It is this definition that we embrace when using the term.

“Invest” was also used intentionally, as true investment requires effort and intentional alignment of resources, and the use of both “invest” and “development” showcases that this is an on-going process in which steady and continual progress must be made. “Development” also connects to learning, something that both Student Affairs and Northwestern hold at their core.

Pursue Equity, Justice, and Belonging
We work toward collective liberation through acknowledgment, accountability, and sustainable change that honors the dignity of all.

This strategic theme emphasizes the importance of justice, education, diversity, and inclusion in the work Student Affairs must do to realize our mission and progress toward our vision. “Pursue” is used intentionally as this word expresses that this work is life-long, and in understanding this, we commit to remaining relentless in our progress toward equity, justice, and belonging. Additionally, the order of “Equity, Justice, and Belonging” is important. You cannot have justice without first having equity, and you cannot achieve true belonging without justice. While all three are worked on together, they are both interdependent and build upon one another.

Collective liberation is also used intentionally to help describe our desired outcome. “Collective” simply means all of us, and “liberation” is freedom from oppression. As we look at our mission, which incorporates our calling to “disrupt barriers,” and we consider Northwestern’s stated commitment to “identify and address all forms of implicit and explicit racism and bias on our campuses”(University President and Senior Leaders, June 2020), it makes sense that our end goal would be collective liberation from any oppressive systems that may inhibit a student’s full belonging in our community. In addition to Northwestern’s stated commitment, our own profession has also called on focusing on both individual and collective liberation as a core of leadership.  Collective liberation also means recognizing that all of our struggles are intimately connected, and that we must work together to create the kind of world we know is possible.

The foundation of this principle is that every person is worthy of dignity and respect, and that within systems of oppression everyone suffers. This term highlights three things that are important as we pursue equity, justice, and belonging:

Values and Behaviors

The division of Student Affairs embraces the University’s mission and values and expands upon them based on our own expertise and unique lens on the student experience. Our values and related behaviors identify what we believe, how we will align resources, and the ways in which we will behave in fulfillment of our mission.

We lead with Compassion.
We model Responsibility.
We commit to Social Justice.
We embrace Well-being.
We learn through Discovery.
We engage in Collaboration.