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  • Mapping the Intricacies of Young Adults' Developmental Journey from Socially Prescribed to Internally Defined Identities, Relationships, and Beliefs

Recent research has called for complex holistic models of college student development, but traditionally, scholars have focused heavily if not exclusively on creating models that emphasize only psychological explanations and probe only one dimension or aspect of development. This article synthesizes a wide range of theories and models to construct an integrated map of both the psychological and sociological factors that influence young adults' learning and development. Moreover, the synthesis discusses the conditions that foster cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal growth.

With the guidance of innovative resources such as Baxter Magolda's (2004) Learning Partnerships Model, an increasing number of educators now situate self-authorship—the developmental capacity to internally define one's own identity, relationships, and beliefs—as the foundation for their practice. For example, the University of Delaware's Department of Residence Life has created a residential curriculum that includes 28 developmental competencies that underlie civic responsibility and engagement (Kerr & Tweedy, 2006). Similarly, Bekken and Marie—both of whom are earth science educators at Virginia Tech—helped create and pilot a core curricular experience focused on sustainability with learning goals "that not only addressed content and technical skills but also supported growth toward self-authorship" (2007, p. 54). These educators listen and watch attentively for signs that students have begun moving toward self-authorship and thus have begun making the transformation from uncritically following the advice of authorities to actively authoring their own identity, relationships, and beliefs. Yet, these educators' knowledge of what fosters growth stems from research that has been guided predominantly "by a psychological, developmental explanation of change among college students" (Terenzini, 1994, p. 422). Terenzini pointed out several drawbacks of maintaining such strong allegiance to a single framework for examining student learning. In particular, he noted that reliance on a single framework restricts researchers' and practitioners' understanding of the factors associated with developmental change. More recently, Abes and Kasch (2007) have urged researchers to use critical perspectives such as queer theory to "move outside of linear models to consider the influence that students are having on their environment to reshape their contexts" (p. 633). Thus, to understand how to consistently and collectively promote transformative learning for the diverse students who populate today's colleges and universities, both researchers and practitioners need a more detailed and nuanced view of the learning process.

Throughout this article, I use the definition of learning from Learning Reconsidered; [End Page 215] accordingly, I use the term to mean "a complex, holistic, multi-centric activity that occurs throughout and across the college experience" (Keeling, 2004, p. 8) and that "produces both educational and developmental outcomes" (p. 5). In fact, I equate learning with development because developmental capacities, such as the ability to mutually negotiate meaning with others, give rise to educational outcomes such as effective citizenship. The authors of Learning Reconsidered emphasized that to better understand and support "learning and development as intertwined, inseparable elements of the student experience" (p. 3), we in higher education need a "new map, one that describes how learning occurs, where it occurs, how we can confirm that it is occurring, and what the outcomes of learning are" (p. 11). I consider how to create a new map by integrating a wide array of perspectives regarding young adult development. According to Baxter Magolda (2001), young adults represent a group of individuals who are in the process of transitioning from depending on others' ways of making meaning to creating their own way of making meaning of knowledge, their identities, and their relationships. This group spans ages, social classes, races and ethnicities, and many other characteristics; thus, it includes—but is not limited to—college students. To capture the most current and prominent research within the field of young adult development, I have drawn primarily upon the research of constructivist-developmental theorists, who view development as a journey toward increasingly complex ways of making meaning. I synthesize this research and then explore the dilemmas within and divergences from this literature base through the works of Anzaldúa, who has described a seven-stage journey that is not necessarily chronological or linear, and Abes and Kasch, who have focused on how power structures affect marginalized individuals' developmental journeys.

Fortunately, several researchers and practitioners have begun construction of a new map that captures the complexity of and interconnections between aspects of development. Initially, Kegan (1994) built a bridge between the epistemological (i.e., cognitive) and psychosocial (i.e., intrapersonal and interpersonal) domains of development. Through his work in the area of adult learning, he integrated these domains of development—cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal—into a single entity that he termed an "order of mind" (p. 23). An order of mind is a unified principle that individuals use to organize meaning. Kegan explained that the different orders of mind—or principles of mental organization—"are not just different ways of knowing, each with its preferred season. . . . Rather, the relation is transformative, qualitative, and incorporative. Each successive principle subsumes or encompasses the prior principle" (p. 33). Thus, growth involves the process of developing increasingly complex and inclusive orders of mind, which allow individuals to negotiate their environments more effectively. Baxter Magolda (2001) observed the need for higher orders of mind over the course of her longitudinal study, in which she has followed students from their first year of college to their late 30s. In Making Their Own Way, she explained that as the participants moved beyond college in their 20s, the demands of their adult lives required self-authorship—the fourth order of mind in which individuals can mediate external influences and author their own experiences. Discussing how the three dimensions interrelate, Baxter Magolda stated:

Adopting contextual assumptions about how to know (via evaluation of evidence and choosing the best knowledge claims) was insufficient for self-authorship because participants lacked an internal sense of [End Page 216] self or identity from which to choose what to believe. This intrapersonal dynamic also meant a shortcoming in their interpersonal arena; participants' relationships with others were constructed to please others with insufficient regard for their own needs.

(2001, p. xix)

Ultimately, Kegan's and Baxter Magolda's descriptions of the journey toward self-authorship have provided a base upon which to construct an integrated map of young adult development that presents a holistic view of the transformative learning process.

Subsequent works have enriched the texture and expanded the terrain of this map. For example, Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) integrated the cognitive dimension into Jones and McEwen's (2000) model of multiple dimensions of identities; the reconceptualized model "provides a richer portrayal of not only what relationships students perceive among their personal and social identities, but also how they come to perceive them as they do" (Abes et al., 2007, p. 13). Also, King and Baxter Magolda (2005) created a model that shows how the three dimensions of development intersect as students take steps toward achieving intercultural maturity. More recently, Wawrzynski and Pizzolato (2006) have begun to study how personal and contextual variables such as students' transfer status, high school grade point average, and college living environment influence the journey toward self-authorship. In addition, Torres and Hernandez (2007) have identified additional developmental tasks associated with Latino/a college students' development. The authors noted that these tasks involve "understanding and managing racism as well as stereotypes that influence individuals' self-image (intrapersonal dimension) and their choices of who they seek out for support and relationships (interpersonal dimension) when dealing with the effects of oppression" (p. 571). They further explained that understanding and managing racism requires cognitive development so that students are able to recognize multiple perspectives regarding racist events and "make deliberate choices about how negative stereotypes will influence their self-perceptions" (p. 571).

Furthermore, scholars who study student cultures have provided a lens through which to view the power structures and symbols that shape students' shared realities. Unlike psychological perspectives of student learning, which focus primarily on how individuals make meaning, anthropological and sociological perspectives attend to how groups make meaning and thus have a broad enough scope to account for the ways in which dominance and oppression play out on a larger scale. For example, Renn (2003) explored how learning environments influence the identities of mixed-race college students and noted that the predominately White campus culture of one Northeastern institution created a perceived need among mixed-race students to "choose a side" (p. 395). Students at this institution did not move as easily among racial and ethnic group distinctions as did students at institutions with more flexible boundaries among races and ethnicities. In essence, Renn's work highlighted that the way students define race involves more than how they think about their own race; it also involves how students choose to respond to the dominant culture's norms and values regarding race.

Those who view college students and higher education institutions with an anthropological or sociological lens also center their interpretations of educational settings on how groups communicate their identities, relationships, and beliefs through symbols (e.g., campus rituals). Thus, they recognize the unspoken symbolic understandings among groups more thoroughly and consistently than do those who use a psychological lens to focus on rational explanations (e.g., thought processes [End Page 217] regarding knowledge). For example, Magolda (2000) discussed how a university's campus tour ritual communicated expectations about students' membership in the academic community. He explained, "The tour visits to the quaint classroom and expansive Recreation Center . . . conveyed a normalizing message to prospective students—that current students work hard and play hard" (p. 38). By highlighting such normalizing messages, the anthropological and sociological lenses help identify externally based messages to which young adults often subscribe in their early levels of development. Because each culture contains different messages, educators must be able to detect the specific ones that influence students with whom they work.

If one brings together these innovative theories and models for practice and maintains a dual focus on both the psychological and sociological sources that influence growth, a comprehensive integrated map takes shape—one that provides all educators with a common navigational tool for guiding students toward internal definition. With this comprehensive integrated map, educators can increase their ability to help students develop the self-authoring capacities necessary to successfully meet the challenges of both higher learning and adult life. In this article, I first identify individual characteristics and environmental factors that intertwine to shape the self and form constructions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. Next, I discuss the four major points that comprise young adults' developmental journey, which include following external formulas, standing at the crossroads, becoming self-authored, and building an internal foundation (Baxter Magolda, 2001). Finally, I explore how various conditions compel young adults to move forward, become idle, or retreat along the way toward increasingly complex ways of making meaning.

But before we as researchers and practitioners begin to piece together the numerous theorized pathways and processes by which diverse individuals make meaning of who they are, how they know, and what types of relationships they want, we must first and foremost appreciate the dynamic interplay between individuals and their social environments. In other words, we must see the individuals we seek to understand within their social contexts. As Zaytoun noted, "we cannot assume what 'self ' is without examining the ways in which self is defined by the social environment within which the individual is embedded" (2003, p. 79). Likewise, Wildman reminded his readers of Bruner's advice to "never assume that learners can be separated from their cultural world and realize their full powers" (2007, p. 22). Thus, on the integrated map of young adults' developmental journey that appears in Figure 1, one must focus not only on the person depicted at each developmental point but also on the series of circles that surround the person.

Individual and Environmental Variables Involved in Development

To provide a general framework that allows one to see both individuals and the social environments in which they are embedded, Renn (2003) used Bronfenbrenner's ecology model, which "places the individual squarely at the center, with ever-more-distal developmental influences arrayed around him or her in a series of nested contexts called microsystems , mesosystems, exosystems, and macrosystems " (p. 387, italics in original). Corresponding to Bronfenbrenner's model, each person depicted in Figure 1 appears at the center of a series of circles. The circles increase in size as they grow ever farther removed from the individual to indicate the increase in scope from microsystems to macrosystems. Although the specific [End Page 218]

Figure 1. Integrated Map of Young Adults' Developmental Journey From External Reliance to Internal Definition The person and series of concentric circles surrounding the person at each developmental point illustrate the dynamic interplay between psychological and sociological influences. The person grows more bold and self-directed while the circles surrounding the person—which represent the environment—grow less distinct in order to portray how the person negotiates his or her environment differently at each point. The arrows and stop signs show conditions necessary for growth. Finally, the captions for each developmental point communicate how individuals make meaning of their beliefs, identities, and relationships. The illustration of the series of concentric circles is from "Understanding the Identities of Mixed-Race College Students Through a Developmental Ecology Lens," by K. A. Renn, 2003, Journal of College Student Development, 44, p. 388. Adapted with permission. Illustrations by Whitney L. Benson.
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Figure 1.

Integrated Map of Young Adults' Developmental Journey From External Reliance to Internal Definition

The person and series of concentric circles surrounding the person at each developmental point illustrate the dynamic interplay between psychological and sociological influences. The person grows more bold and self-directed while the circles surrounding the person—which represent the environment—grow less distinct in order to portray how the person negotiates his or her environment differently at each point. The arrows and stop signs show conditions necessary for growth. Finally, the captions for each developmental point communicate how individuals make meaning of their beliefs, identities, and relationships. The illustration of the series of concentric circles is from "Understanding the Identities of Mixed-Race College Students Through a Developmental Ecology Lens," by K. A. Renn, 2003, Journal of College Student Development, 44, p. 388. Adapted with permission. Illustrations by Whitney L. Benson.

[End Page 219]

details of the ecology model change given which individual one situates at the center and which point in time one takes the snapshot, the general components remain consistent across a range of individuals and time. Moreover, the general components emphasize important variables that play a part in the developmental process.

Table 1

Individual Variables That Influence Young Adult Development

Types of Individual Variables Examples
Socially Constructed Identities Race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status,
abilities, and disabilities
Histories Prior academic performance, family background, awareness of
and/or involvement with significant national events (e.g., 9/11),
experiences with oppression
Attributes / Developmentally
Instigative Characteristics
Tendency to internalize negative messages from others,
willingness (or unwillingness) to step beyond one's comfort
zone, persistence in the face of challenges, self-confidence
Style of Knowing Separate (i.e., doubting new ideas, even those that are
appealing), connected (i.e., embracing new ideas, even those
that seem wrong)

Variables associated with the individual include the full range of identities, histories, and attributes that students bring with them to higher education (see Table 1). For example, Wawrzynski and Pizzolato (2006) discovered that a student's prior academic background, evaluated by ACT score or high school grade point average, serves as a strong predictor of a student's degree of self-authorship when he or she enters college; the authors explained that "when students are able to draw on previous academic experiences, they are able to situate learning in these experiences," which facilitates self-authoring capacities such as the ability to develop internally defined criteria by which to make decisions (p. 688). Other variables associated with the individual relate to what Bronfenbrenner has called "developmentally instigative characteristics," which "induce or inhibit dynamic dispositions toward the immediate environment" and thus highly influence the course of development (1993, p. 11, as cited in Renn, 2003, p. 387). Renn and Arnold (2003) explained that the four types of developmentally instigative characteristics relate to how students process responses from others, react to and explore their surroundings, engage or persist in increasingly complex activities, and view their sense of agency. For example, some students internalize negative messages about their race, ethnicity, gender, or class and thus fail to inhibit detrimental responses from others. Such a characteristic may pose a significant obstacle to development. Other students demonstrate an exceptional willingness to step beyond their comfort zones, which may expose them to conditions that promote cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal growth. In addition to personal experiences and characteristics, another individual variable includes style of knowing. In Women's Ways of Knowing, Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) identified two styles of knowing and termed [End Page 220] them separate and connected. Clinchy (1996) explained:

In separate knowing one takes an adversarial stance toward new ideas even when the ideas seem intuitively appealing. . . . In contrast, in connected knowing one tries to embrace new ideas, looking for what is 'right' even in positions that seem initially wrongheaded or even abhorrent.

(p. 207)

Although an individual tends to use one style of knowing more than another, both styles "can and do coexist within the same individual" (p. 207). As Kegan explored the difference between separate and connected knowing, he noted, "Neither approach can be said to be better than the other, though in some situations one or the other may be preferable" (1994, p. 216). Ultimately, an individual's primary style of knowing combines with his or her socially constructed identities, family background, life experiences, attitudes, and ideologies to comprise a particular way of seeing and interacting with the surrounding network of social environments. That is, the individual variables represent the personal characteristics that a young adult brings to a given environment.

Table 2

Environmental Variables That Influence Young Adult Development

Types of Environmental Variables Examples
Microsystems: face-to-face settings containing the individual Family, friends, classmates, colleagues
Mesosystems: settings in which two or
more microsystems interact
Living-learning communities where a student's
academic and social life intersect, internship or
service-learning sites where a student's professional
and personal identities overlap
Exosystems: settings or situations that do not contain the individual but that still influence the individual's development University policies, curricula, administrative decisions
Macrosystems: overarching patterns of micro-, meso-, and exosystem characteristics of a given culture or subculture Cultural beliefs such as the necessity of a college degree for career success, norms such as heteronormativity, historical events such as the Iraq War [End Page 221]

Like the individual variables, the environmental variables change depending on the individual at the center of the network and the time at which one stops to study the variables. Nevertheless, the environmental variables fit into four increasingly broad subsystems: micro-, meso-, exo-, and macrosystems (see Table 2). Although the subsystems appear distinct in Figure 1, in reality they intersect to create settings that are congruent, incongruent, or something in between (Renn, 2003). Thus, a microsystem never exists in isolation; rather, it exists as part of and in relation to the other three subsystems. Renn explained that microsystems include family, friends, classmates, and other "face-to-face settings containing the individual" (p. 388). Discussing how peer-based microsystems influence the development of mixed-race students, Renn and Arnold (2003) stated:

Participation in "monoracial" student organizations (the Black Student Forum, Asian American Alliance, La Fuerza Latina, etc.) provided opportunities to form relationships with students sharing part of a participant's heritage, but more often were places where identity was contested and subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) challenges to mixed-race students' authenticity were commonplace.

(p. 275)

Mesosystems encompass two or more microsystems that interact; for example, a student's academic, social, and work life create a mesosystem. Renn (2003) noted that if messages from one microsystem support messages from another microsystem, alignment occurs within the mesosystem; however, if messages from one microsystem challenge messages from another microsystem, contradiction and thus disso-nance may occur. Love, Bock, Jannarone, and Richardson (2005) recounted the difficulties associated with contradiction as they explored ways in which lesbian and gay college students worked to reconcile their spiritual and sexual identities. The authors noted that Barbara, a student from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, struggled to "figure out how to be both religious and a lesbian" because her family and her fellow church members disapproved of homosexuality but several of her peers supported homosexuality (p. 201). Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) reminded educators, though, that students may not perceive or address such contradiction when they first encounter it. For example, Carmen—a participant in Abes' study—chose to separate her sexual orientation and culture to avoid conflict. Carmen stated:

When I'm around a bunch of Puerto Ricans, I'm not going to be like, yeah I'm gay. . . . If we're getting together, if the focus is more towards my culture or doing something with that aspect of my life . . . then I guess the two are separate there.

(p. 10)

At a more removed level from the individual, exosystems are settings that do not contain the individual but that nonetheless influence the individual's development. Stevens (2004) noted how elements of a university setting influence the identity development of gay men. He stated:

Several men appreciate the various ways that individuals, offices, departments, and even the university as a whole could demonstrate their support for gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals to be a visible involved part of the campus community. They included the creation of an equity office for LGBT university members, a non-discrimination policy, and the development of a Safe Space program.

(p. 197)

Finally, macrosystems in Bronfenbrenner's model are the farthest removed from the individual and constitute "overarching patterns of micro-, meso- and exosystem characteristics of a given culture, subculture, or other extended social structure" (1993, p. 25, as cited in Renn, 2003, p. 389). As Davis (2002) explored the social construction of college men's identity, he explained:

[The men] wanted to give voice to certain emotions but were acutely cognizant of the parameters in which these feelings could be expressed. . . . Not wanting to appear vulnerable to other men, fear of being seen as gay, and wanting to avoid the "just friend–not boyfriend" label all shaped how and what men in this study communicated.

(p. 518)

Hence, when one reaches the macrosystem, cultural expectations and their by-products, privilege and oppression, materialize most clearly. For example, one can see that American culture expects men to embody characteristics and play roles opposite those associated with women; this prescribed gender role—though it tends to suppress all men's behavior—lends privilege to heterosexual men who appear to [End Page 222] fit the masculine stereotype by nature of their partnerships with the opposite sex. In turn, this prescribed gender role assigns a negative connotation to other sexualities in which the contrast between masculine and feminine may not be as great; the negative connotation—which serves as a cultural norm that students in earlier levels of cognitive development may see as "the truth"—ultimately results in oppression.

In a similar way, American culture privileges Whites, males, and upper-class citizens. Discussing the social construction of race, Andersen and Collins (2000) explained, "Racism is a system of power and privilege; it can be manifested in people's attitudes but is rooted in society's structure and is reflected in the different advantages and disadvantages that groups experience, based on their location in this societal system" (p. 71). Such systems of power and privilege help explain where many young adults begin their developmental journey. Zaytoun (2003) noted that the "concept of 'self ' for many may begin with how others have defined and limited their experiences" (p. 81).

Case Studies of How Individual and Environmental Variables Interact

To more vividly portray how the multitude of individual and environmental variables converges to shape the way young adults view their identities, their relationships, and the nature of knowledge, I share the stories of two particular students in this section. These students represent fictional characters that embody aggregate characteristics of students with whom I have interacted in advising settings. Sam is a first-year student at a predominately White institution in the Midwest. As a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC), he arrived a week before his first-year peers to participate in an orientation involving intensive physical training. He receives a full-ride scholarship that covers his room and board; in addition, he receives a monthly subsistence allowance and a stipend for textbooks. Sam plans to major in business but sees no real need for this degree because he hopes to be commissioned as an officer in the Navy upon graduation. Sam's father is also in the Navy, and his parents take great pride in having a son who demonstrates loyalty to his country. During the NROTC orientation, Sam learns that obeying his superiors is vital to success. He works hard to understand and carry out his superiors' orders, even when such orders push him to his physical and mental limits. Sam also works hard in the classroom to determine his professors' expectations for assignments. When his professor of Business Ethics assigns a paper that requires him to explore an ethical dilemma based on his personal experience, he decides to set up an appointment with the professor to determine what type of ethical dilemma he should discuss. He tells himself that he cannot risk choosing the wrong topic because he must maintain at least a 3.0 to keep his NROTC scholarship. Outside of class, he has chosen to participate in an intramural basketball team and a men's Bible study. For Sam, the activities in which he participates emphasize obedience and loyalty; to misinterpret or ignore others' commands (whether they come from God, his superiors in NROTC, or his professors) carries significant repercussions, at least in his perception. Also, he has yet to encounter multiple per-spectives related to race and gender and thus does not recognize how his experiences as a White male differ from those of women or students of color.

Veronica, a White female who grew up in a suburban area of Los Angeles, California, now attends a predominately White institution in the Midwest. The institution places a high value on liberal arts education and features a "Great Books" sequence of courses for first- [End Page 223] and second-year students. Like Sam, Veronica is a first-year student. She has yet to declare a major but feels pressure to do so relatively soon because she needs to graduate in 4 years. As the daughter of a single mother, she has taken out several loans to help finance her college education and hopes to get a work-study job to offset some of her expenses. While socializing with students in her residence hall corridor during the first weeks of school, Veronica is surprised at the degree to which her peers participate in organized religion. Her mother, an atheist and self-proclaimed feminist, taught her to question and critique anyone or any entity that claims to know the "ultimate truth." Veronica brings this critical perspective into the classroom where she often questions (under her breath and among her close friends) why professors seem to call on men more often than women. In her English literature course, she eagerly engages in heated discussions related to the limitations of the traditionally male-oriented pattern of story development that emphasizes action and aggression. During these discussions, she draws upon her past experiences in Advanced Placement English; she recalls how one of her teachers assigned a paper that required her to retell Hamlet from a female perspective. Ultimately, Veronica finds the notion of academic and social freedom appealing, yet she continues to adopt her mother's beliefs and model her mother's actions. In addition, she has not yet begun to explore how her race affects her perspective because White has appeared as the norm in both her high school and college culture. However, she has begun to experience some dissonance related to spirituality. Her new peers' religious practices differ from those of her family, which makes her wonder what her peers get out of attending church on a regular basis.

Both Sam and Veronica stand at the same point in their developmental journey—a place in which they follow external formulas. Yet each follows a different set of formulas depending on his or her environment. For example, Veronica remains skeptical of organized religion because of her mother's beliefs and values; similarly, Sam accepts orders without question because of his father's and NROTC peers' actions. In some ways, Veronica's set of formulas align more naturally with the mission of her institution in particular and higher education in general than do Sam's and also prompt her to engage in experiences (e.g., basing an assignment on a nonrequired reading) that Sam may likely evaluate as too risky. Nevertheless, Sam's set of formulas, which involve being loyal, may help him connect with a community more quickly. In addition, because his scholarship covers nearly all of his expenses and his graduation from NROTC will grant him job security, he may feel more freedom to take electives that do not directly relate to his degree. In essence, both Sam and Veronica have a unique set of individual and environmental variables that creates supports and challenges for their development and helps guide them along their journey. One cannot adequately predict or interpret the influence of any one variable without identifying how it intersects with other variables. In the next section, I return to Veronica's story to illustrate one possible path for her movement from external reliance to internal definition.

The Overal Trajectory of Young Adults' Developmental Journey

Now that we as researchers and practitioners see the individuals we seek to understand within their social contexts and know the variables that influence where they begin and how they proceed on their journey, we are better equipped to consider how an individual grows over time. Because the self takes shape [End Page 224] based on both personal and social definitions, I discuss what McCarn and Fassinger (1996) have identified as two main forms of identity development: individual and group membership. In addition, I use Baxter Magolda's (2001) terms from Making Their Own Way to describe the key developmental points along the journey from external reliance to internal definition; her terms encompass broad themes that appear in all three dimensions of development and in a wide array of theories and models and thus effectively serve as umbrellas under which to integrate diverse perspectives. I start by discussing the developmental level Baxter Magolda has termed Following External Formulas because this is where many young adults stand as they enter college or settings in which they are newly independent from their families. I then follow the journey through the developmental level Baxter Magolda has termed Building an Internal Foundation, at which point individuals fully and consistently demonstrate cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal maturity. For each of the four key developmental points, I weave together various descriptions that—when combined—show the characteristics of students' cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development at the given point and capture a range of individual and environmental variables. Table 3 provides an example of how Veronica from the case study may progress along her developmental journey. In each dimension (e.g., cognitive) and at each point (e.g., Following External Formulas), the nature of the events as well as the particular individual and environmental variables will differ depending on the context; thus, the essence of Table 3 does not lie with the content of Veronica's beliefs, identity, and relationships but rather with the process of how she evolves in her view of knowledge, herself, and her relationships and how key individual and environmental variables influence her development.

Following External Formulas. At the point of the journey labeled Following External Formulas, environmental factors heavily influence the individual because the individual has not yet developed an internal sense of self. The individual looks to authorities such as parents, supervisors, and even the mass media to discover how one should know, who one should be, and what type of relationships one should have. For example, Laughlin and Creamer (2007) found that women at or near this developmental point often look to close friends and family members to make career-related decisions. When the interviewers asked one woman why she considered her parents' opinions important, she stated, "Because they're my parents and I think they know what's best for me sometimes" (p. 47). In essence, women at this developmental point did not critically evaluate their parents' knowledge or expertise. In Figure 1, the individual begins running as soon as the authority figure says go, which indicates that the individual still depends on others to decide how and when to act. Moreover, the individual appears light gray while the authority and social environments appear bold and black to signify that external forces are stronger than the internal sense of self. In Torres and Baxter Magolda's (2004) exploration of Latino identity development, the authors explained:

Participants who were following external formulas lacked an internal basis for evaluating knowledge claims; they relied on external authorities to define their beliefs, making them vulnerable to ethnic stereotypes. Similarly, their lack of awareness of their own values and social identity, the lack of coordination of components of identity, and the need for others' approval combined to yield an externally defined identity.

(p. 343)

Also, as both Love et al. (2005) and Abes et al. (2007) have attested, if two or more of [End Page 225]

Table 3. Overview of Veronica's Young Adult Developmental Journey
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Table 3.

Overview of Veronica's Young Adult Developmental Journey

[End Page 226]

an individual's identities conflict at this point, the individual tends to compartmentalize them so as to allow him or her to continue to follow the respective external formulas for each compartment. To reconcile the conflict, the individual would need the capacity to create a new self-definition that encompasses his or her multiple identities, which requires greater awareness of multiple perspectives and understanding of one's own self than the individual currently possesses.

As young adults continue to travel along the journey toward adulthood, they each discover in some way a personal sense of self that differs from or even outright opposes cultural expectations. At the moment of this discovery, external and internal forces collide with great power and create a recognizable rift between two worlds: one defined by others and one defined by the individual. On Figure 1, this rift is labeled as the "fault line" to represent a point of major turbulence and turmoil. Although a rift forms whenever an individual moves from one way of making meaning of his or her identity, relationships, and knowledge to a new way, the rift that forms between Following External Formulas and the next developmental level (Standing at the Crossroads) is the deepest and widest; this rift separates the external from the internal world whereas rifts between subsequent developmental levels separate different gradations of the internal world. Discussing how the fault line forms for lesbians, McCarn and Fassinger noted, "The dawning of a minority sexuality is likely to begin with awareness of a difference, a general feeling of being different or awareness of feelings or desires that are different from the heterosexual norm and therefore from the predicted self" (1996, p. 522). Anzaldúa (2002) likened the moment when an individual encounters this extreme dissonance to an earthquake that "jerks you from the familiar and safe terrain and catapults you into nepantla" (p. 544). Nepantla represents the second of seven stages in what Anzaldúa has called the journey to conocimiento, or action-oriented consciousness; at this stage, an individual stands in a "liminal, transitional space" where he or she is "exposed, open to other perspectives, more readily able to access knowledge derived from inner feelings, imaginal states, and outer events, and to 'see through' them with a mindful, holistic awareness" (p. 544). Ultimately, this new awareness allows individuals to recognize a difference from the predicted self—the one that cultural expectations construct—and the inner self and compels them to progress to the second major point in the developmental journey.

The Crossroads. The Crossroads represents a period during which individuals intensely question and explore their identities, relationships, and beliefs. In Making Their Own Way , Baxter Magolda stated, "The crossroads was a turning point that called for letting go of external control and beginning to replace it with one's internal voice" (2001, p. 94). Anzaldúa noted that as individuals struggle to cope with this significant change, they feel "torn between ways" (2002, p. 547). Describing her own experience with feeling torn, she recounted:

While home, family, and ethnic culture tug you back to the tribe, to the chicana indigena you were before, the anglo world sucks you toward an assimilated, homogenized, whitewashed identity. Each separate reality and its belief system vies with others to convert you to its worldview.

(p. 548)

Stevens (2004) as well as Love et al. (2005) explained that individuals at the Crossroads examine cultural expectations and begin to make tentative commitments. Stevens noted that, at this developmental point, gay men "had to sort out the societal beliefs about [End Page 227] homosexuality that they had internalized: confusion about what they knew about themselves conflicted with heterosexist norms" (p. 191).

Working to reconcile multiple realities and find where their own reality fits into the mix, individuals in the Crossroads at first cling to familiar ways of making meaning and remain reluctant to move forward. After all, the move toward self-authorship—the next major developmental point—represents a giant leap forward. Anzaldúa noted, "Even as you listen to the old consciousness's death rattle"—and thus hear and see the problems with following external formulas—"you continue defending its mythology of who you were and what your world looked like" (2002, p. 549). Nevertheless, as individuals move through the Crossroads, they grow more willing and able to let go of external control; eventually, they not only recognize that they need to let go but also realize how to do so. Anzaldúa explained:

As you begin to know and accept the self uncovered by the trauma [of blasting into another reality], you pull the blinders off, take in the new landscape in brief glances. Gradually you arouse the agent in this drama, begin to act, to dis-identify with the fear and the isolation. You sit quietly and meditate, trance into an altered state of consciousness, temporarily suspending your usual frames of reference and beliefs while your creative self seeks a solution to your problem by being receptive to new patterns of association.

(p. 552)

In Figure 1, the individual appears darker gray than the individual at the Following External Formulas point and the circles of the social environment appear less bold than those at the previous point to signify the growing influence of the individual and the waning influence of the environment. Ultimately, individuals at this point work to reconcile what society tells them with what their new-found self wants to say.

Becoming Self-Authored. At the next point, Becoming Self-Authored, young adults begin to construct their own selves. They choose their values, decide the terms for their relationships, and determine how to judge knowledge claims. The process of becoming self-authored aligns with Anzaldúa's (2002) fifth stage of conocimiento; describing the feelings and behaviors associated with this stage, she explained that "your desire for order and meaning prompts you to track the ongoing circumstances of your life, to sift, sort, and symbolize your experiences and try to arrange them into a pattern and story that speak to your reality" (p. 545). According to McCarn and Fassinger (1996), lesbians at this point deepen both their personal and social identities. The authors stated, "It is here that the emerging lesbian is likely to recognize her desire for other women as within herself" (p. 523). In addition, the emerging lesbian makes "a commitment to create a personal relationship to the reference group, with awareness of the possible consequences entailed" (p. 525). The emerging lesbian may also work to reconcile divergent aspects of her identity. For example, Leah in Abes and Jones' study demonstrated the ability to internally define her own identity through "her rejection of occasional questioning she received about the coexistence of her Jewish and queer identities" (2004, p. 624). Explaining the capacity that allows individuals to make such commitments and internal constructions despite society's potential disapproval, Baxter Magolda (2001) noted that at the self-authoring point of young adults' developmental journey, "The internal voice, or self, became the coordinator and mediator of external influence" (p. 119). In their discussion of ESOL students' development, Helsing, Broderick, and Hammerman (2001) described the cognitive dimension of self-authorship and stated, [End Page 228]

Self-authoring students seem better able to evaluate and critique the messages they receive about race, class, linguistic, and cul-tural differences. . . . Thus, even if the culture messages imply their inferiority, they are able to reject these messages.

(p. 179)

Anzaldúa added that, once self-authored, you are able to "rethink yourself in more global-spiritual terms instead of conventional categories of color, class, career" (2002, p. 561). In other words, self-authoring individuals have, in Stevens's (2004) terms, found empowerment. The individual depicted in the Becoming Self-Authored image of Figure 1 engages in introspection by peering into the mirror and now appears more distinct. The social environments remain present but continue to fade into the background.

Building an Internal Foundation. The social environments fade even more as young adults progress toward the next point of the journey—Building an Internal Foundation. Here, as individuals solidify their ability to author their lives, they possess an inner strength that allows them to integrate multiple, potentially competing identities and relationships as well as embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. Of individuals at this point, Love et al. (2005) noted, "Participants shared examples where they had consciously reflected on who they were, accepted these elements of their identity, and maintained this reconciliation in the face of challenge" (p. 200). In essence, individuals who have built an internal foundation demonstrate mature forms of agency as well as communion. Baxter Magolda (2001) explained:

A sense of agency was evident at this point in the journey to direct one's life, choose priorities, and act consistently with self-defined boundaries. Simultaneously, a sense of communion was evident in the ability to connect meaningfully and mutually with others while maintaining an authentic self.

(p. 184)

In Anzaldúa's (2002) seventh stage of conocimiento, which mirrors the Building an Internal Foundation point, individuals create "increasingly multidimensional versions [of their stories] where body, mind, and spirit interpenetrate in more complex ways" (p. 562) and "develop an ethical, compassionate strategy with which to negotiate conflict and difference within self and between others" (p. 545). The individual depicted in the Building an Internal Foundation image of Figure 1 chooses priorities and connects aspects of his or her personal and social identities. He or she appears confident and able to create personal convictions.

In effect, as one looks from the first to the fourth point on the journey, he or she sees the individual move ever more to the foreground and the social environments move ever more to the background. A dynamic interplay between the individual and his or her social environments never ceases to exist, yet as the individual develops an internal voice, he or she gradually gains the developmental capacities necessary to reflect on, critique, and reshape his or her social context. The social context continues to influence the individual, but at the Building an Internal Foundation point, the individual has the ability to understand the nature of the influence and also decide the degree of influence. Moreover, the individual has the ability to use his or her agency to actively engage with the social context rather than be passively shaped by it. By combining this nuanced portrait of the overall trajectory of young adults' developmental journey with an in-depth awareness of the individual and environmental variables that may influence the particular pace and path a student takes, educators can more precisely determine where, when, and how learning occurs. [End Page 229]

Conditions That Affect the Direction and Degree of Developmental Change

With an understanding of the degree to which the environment influences the individual and the individual influences the environment at each of the four major points, we as researchers and practitioners can now better appreciate how the individual transitions from one point to the next. At each point, three options exist. An individual may (a) progress and move forward along the journey, which is indicated in Figure 1 by the arrows pointing to the right; (b) become idle and remain in the same developmental place, which is indicated by the stop signs; or (c) regress and move backward, which is indicated by the arrows pointing to the left. Forward and backward movement represent shifts from one level of making meaning, or what Kegan has termed an order of mind, to another. To move forward, one must gain the capacity to make meaning at a more complex level. For example, as individuals shift from seeing knowledge as certain to seeing knowledge as relative, they move forward in the cognitive dimension. When one moves backward, he or she returns (temporarily in many cases) to making meaning at a less complex level. In contrast, remaining in the same developmental place may involve incremental shifts or cyclical steps rather than full leaps toward a more or less complex way of making meaning. Such subtle shifts and sideways steps occur within a given level and help facilitate transformation. For example, Kegan noted that peer relationships serve as a "'transitional object,' both part of the old way of knowing and part of the new" because young adults initially believe that the other person (their peer) is just like themselves when in actuality the other person holds a different perspective than their own (1994, p. 44). Anzaldúa (2002), however, has pointed out that movement does not necessarily happen in a chronological or consistent fashion. She asserted, "Zigzagging from ignorance (desconocimiento ) to awareness (conocimiento), in a day's time you may go through all seven stages, though you may dwell in one for months" (pp. 545-546). Ultimately, the interplay between the individual and the environment directs the pace and path of the transition process by creating challenges and supports.

For progression or forward movement to occur, an individual must have a sense of dissonance and disequilibrium, which disrupts his or her current way of making meaning. Pizzolato (2003) noted that provocative experiences "led to levels of disequilibrium that provoked students toward action and commitment to internally defined goals" (p. 803). Yet, she also explained, "Development of increasingly more advanced degrees of self-authorship (Internal Foundations) requires: (a) scaffolding from others, and (b) cognitive capabilities on the part of the student to process and not succumb to external realities or interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts" (p. 808). Likewise, Abes and Jones (2004) asserted, "cognitive complexity is an integral component of the construction of lesbian identity, as well as the negotiation of multiple identities" (p. 626). Although a sense of dissonance signals the individual to look for a new way of making meaning, it may lead to regression if too extreme or if unmediated by supportive others or positive personal attributes. For example, Torres (2003) found that students who are first generation in the United States experience significant dissonance with their culture of origin and may retreat in their ethnic identity development. In addition, Pizzolato (2004) found that high-risk students who had moved to the becoming self-authored point during high school experienced intense disequilibrium as they interacted with others in college; those who failed to find either internal or external [End Page 230] supports returned to the Following External Formulas point.

In cases where individuals experience no dissonance, movement along the journey stalls; that is, without sufficient challenge, individuals lack the momentum necessary to move to another developmental level and thus become idle in terms of cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal growth. High privilege, which Pizzolato (2003) defined as "excessive support that cross[es] the line into protection" (p. 808), may decrease an individual's sense of dissonance and pose a problem for growth. Discussing the identity of White male college students, Davis (2002) stated, "Being in an environment where one's race and gender are routinely affirmed promotes a foreclosed identity where crisis is absent and commitments are not explored" (p. 517). In addition, individuals may idle developmentally when they struggle to amass enough support to deal with dissonance, as when negative individual or environmental variables compete with or cancel out positive ones. For example, Wawrzynski and Pizzolato (2006) explained, "It seems probable that transfer students may experience intense levels of disequilibrium as they enter the transfer institution, but as this disequilibrium decreases they are able to reason at significantly more complex epistemological levels" (p. 690). As transfer students work to bring challenge and support back into balance, they experience a stagnation in their development.

By considering the conditions that compel individuals to move (or not move) in a certain direction, we as researchers and practitioners can recognize again the numerous individual and environmental variables involved in development. Moreover, we can see that a given variable—family background, for instance—may serve as a catalyst for growth for some persons or at some times and as a deterrent to growth for other persons or at other times. Yet, we can look across the variables to determine that those that insulate young adults from the effects of dissonance (such as privileged social identities) may not compel young adults to engage in meaningful reflection and reconciliation of conflicts. Those that create dissonance (such as contradicting microsystems) and those that equip young adults with resources to manage the effects of dissonance (such as supportive others) can facilitate growth. When young adults reach the internally defined developmental point along their journey, they will likely have spent years questioning, exploring, reconciling, and clarifying who they are, how they know, and what types of relationships they want to have.

Dilemas Within and Divergences From Constructivist Developmental Theories

When we as researchers and practitioners view student learning using both psychological perspectives and anthropological perspectives, we are able to fill in some of the traditional gaps in constructivist-developmental theories. For example, we can simultaneously focus on group norms as well as an individual's unique reaction to such norms. As a result, we can more clearly see the interactions between the person and environment. In addition, power dynamics and symbolic meanings are more distinct than when we use only psychological perspectives. Nonetheless, some dilemmas remain, which give rise to theories that diverge in significant ways from constructivist-developmental theories. First, as Evans, Forney, and Guido-DiBrito (1998) note, the stages in constructivist-developmental theories appear to occur "one at a time and always in the same order" (p. 124). However, Anzaldúa (2002) as well as Abes and Kasch (2007) have asserted that stages can occur concurrently. Discussing how Kegan's (1994) orders of the mind apply [End Page 231] to the developmental story of a participant named KT, Abes and Kasch stated that a "linear trajectory does not describe KT's development because her queer resistance causes her to interact with society in a manner similar to the fifth order, even though she might not have reached the fourth order" (p. 632). Another source of tension between con-struc-tivist developmental theories and alternative perspectives is the notion that an individual arrives at a specific place or stage at which he or she can make meaning in a more complex way. Abes and Kasch argued that the devel-opmental journey is not as fixed and bounded as stage models envision it to be. Thus, the way an individual makes meaning evolves in its complexity but does not arrive or end at a set level. The authors stated that "KT's queer narrative is a story of continued resistance and an ever-changing network of complex intrasections within dimensions of iden-tity" (p. 629). Ultimately, the journey that Anzaldúa as well as Abes and Kasch have described takes a cyclical shape in which stages overlap and intersect. Their respective works have raised doubts regarding the linearity and finiteness of constructivist-developmental theories.

Moreover, several researchers have pointed out that constructivist-developmental theories are based primarily on the developmental stories of students from dominant groups. For example, only 3 of the original 101 participants in Baxter Magolda's (2001) longitudinal study were from underrepresented groups, and all three were unreachable due to address changes by the 10th year of the study. Torres and Hernandez (2007) found that the developmental journey that Baxter Magolda (2001) has described does not fully capture how Latino/a college students progress from following external formulas to building an internal foundation. For instance, Latino/a students turned toward family members and well-known peers—rather than traditional authority figures such as faculty members—in the following external formulas phase (Torres & Hernandez). Also, Pizzolato (2004) noted that as some high-risk students in her study "encountered messages about who they were and who they could be that conflicted with their internal definitions, the intense dis-equilibrium they initially experienced led to a retreat from self-authored knowing" (p. 438); the notion of retreat runs counter to Baxter Magolda's (2001) definition of self-authorship. Pizzolato explained that the traditional definition of self-authorship implies that an individual has the capacity to manage external influences so that such influences do not overwhelm his or her internal voice; yet, the stories of the participants in her study revealed that students' ability to use self-authorship skills "may depend on the degree of external hostility they perceive toward outward expression of their internal foundations" (p. 439). Ultimately, these divergent perspectives serve as reminders that person-environment interactions are inherently complex and, consequently, no one theory or model captures all of the complexities. Within the field of young adult development, researchers and practitioners have yet to identify all of the variables and permutations associated with development, and thus, we must continue to seek out the nuances of the mutual shaping process that occurs as individuals negotiate their environments.

Implications for Practice

According to Wildman, "The change mechanism we talk about with our learning hat on is virtually identical to the change process we look to when wearing our developmental hat" (2007, p. 21). The common question is this: "How do we create the conditions that cause students to change their minds—to give up an [End Page 232] early set of epistemic beliefs in favor of more advanced beliefs about the nature of knowledge?" (p. 21). The integrated map in this article does not suggest easy or straightforward responses to this question; however, it does reveal the range of dynamics and dimensions associated with change in a more complete and interconnected fashion than do other models. Using the map, researchers and practitioners alike can see the mind as more than cognition, the identity as personally but also socially constructed, and the growth process as both fluid and contextual—insights that collectively move us toward more broadly and deeply understanding how to guide students from external reliance toward internal definition. In practice, educators can draw upon this integrated model to prompt students to share rich narratives (in writing or through conversation) that show the mix of individual and environmental variables at play in their developmental journey. Indeed, one of the strengths of this integrated model is that it is flexible enough to fit a broad range of developmental dimensions as well as personal and cultural backgrounds. In addition, because this integrated model highlights the numerous forms that external formulas can take, we as educators can use it as a reminder to continuously focus on the how and why of a student's meaning-making process rather than the what. That is, it helps us probe beneath surface-level behaviors and comments to understand how and why students see knowledge, their identities, and their relationships a certain way. Ultimately, this more detailed and nuanced map of the learning process allows educators to more astutely listen and watch for signs that a student is on his or her way toward possessing internally defined identities, relationships, and beliefs.

Kari B. Taylor

Kari B. Taylor is Associate Director for Student Development, Honors & Scholars Program, Miami University (Ohio).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kari B. Taylor, Miami University, 97 Bishop Hall, Oxford, OH 45056;


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