Occupying liminal spaces: The figured worlds of student affairs senior leaders in the United States

Katherine S. McOwen*, Abigail W. Konopasky, Jerusalem Merkebu, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Student Affairs Senior Leaders (SASLs) in the United States lead offices responsible for academic advising, administrative documentation, scheduling, student health, financial aid, and transition to residency, yet they infrequently draw attention in the field's literature. We explore the role of SASLs and how they describe the social space of medical education. Methods: Using a constructivist approach informed by Figured Worlds theory, we conducted a sequential narrative and thematic analysis of the stories SASLs tell about their roles and experiences in the world of medical education. Results: SASLs inhabit complex roles centred on advocating for medical students' academic, personal and social well-being. Their unique position within the medical school allows them to see the harm to vulnerable students made possible by misalignments inherent within medical education. Yet even with the challenges inherent in the environment, SASLs find reasons for hope. Conclusion: SASLs' identities are full of potential contradictions, but they have a unique view into the often-chaotic world of medical education.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


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