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SAA Candidates Explore Deficit Thinking in NASPA Presentation

October 23, 2020

  • Ariadne (Addie) Cheng ’22 and Michael Paz ’21

Current Student Affairs Administration (SAA) candidates Ariadne (Addie) Cheng ’22 and Michael Paz ’21 have been selected to present their research, “Where they ought to be: Tools for combating deficit thinking with minoritized students,” at the 2020 Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) Western Regional Conference in November. According to NASPA’s website, the 2020 conference will take place virtually and will focus on examining critical topics such as Black Lives Matter, the national elections, pandemic and remote responsiveness, and more.

When discussing their presentation topic, Cheng explains deficit thinking is the idea that students from non-dominant identities in American society (i.e. not cis-heterosexual white males) need to “catch up” to the rest of society in order to be successful.


“Deficit thinking is the idea that students from non-dominant identities in American society (i.e. not cis-heterosexual white males) need to “catch up” to the rest of society in order to be successful. There is a focus on perceived “problems” rather than on opportunity and potential.”

Addie Cheng & Michael Paz


“American society and education systems were created by and for white men, and little has changed since their inception,” she shares. “This affects the kind of knowledge that is valued in our society, as well as which identities, lifestyles, careers, morals, and learning styles, among others, are catered to and recognized as legitimate.”

Paz elaborates on that idea, stating that “educational scholars describe deficit thinking as a needs driven approach to education. There is a focus on perceived “problems” rather than on opportunity and potential.” He also takes a moment to discuss the significance of the language used when exploring this topic, pointing out that minoritized, the verb form of minority, is intentionally used to draw attention to the oppressive, outdated, and damaging systems that actively push students to the margins of education.

Cheng and Paz have both witnessed the effects that deficit thinking has on minoritized students first-hand—Cheng while working as a Career Services Advisor at a local trade school and Paz while employed as a high school teacher—leading them to their current pursuit to make clear that all students deserve to be seen and heard.

“I’ve seen what being marginalized by society and our education system does to students’ confidence and self-perception,” says Cheng. “Students would frequently write off their lived experiences, family lives, employment, and even bilingual skills as unrelated or unimportant to their future academic and professional careers because society tells them those skills are not relevant.”


“If more educators understood how to validate the experiences and knowledge of minoritized students, it could be transformative for not just the students but also our society as a whole.”

Addie Cheng


“One of the hardest things students are asked to do is to believe in themselves while living in a world where whiteness is privileged above all else,” says Paz. “It is important that minoritized students understand how powerful, valuable, and important the capital is that they bring to the classroom.”

While presenting at the 2020 conference will no doubt be a very different experience than in previous years, Cheng and Paz feel ready to adapt to the online format and deliver an engaging and meaningful virtual experience.

“We will most likely include an element of personal storytelling and some wizardry with Zoom,” says Paz. “Addie’s a savant with reorganizing our ideas into coherent guiding questions and exercises.”


“It is the greatest honor to lead and learn alongside others that care as much as I do about changing the landscape of higher education.”

Michael Paz


Cheng also credits SAA professors Brenda Valles and Brenda Sifuentez for showing them how to make Zoom classes engaging and interactive.

Cheng and Paz selected the Student Affairs Administration program and Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling because of its equity and social justice focus and a deep desire to change the landscape of higher education.

“There’s nothing enlightened about only acknowledging one perspective in perpetuity,” concludes Cheng. “The SAA program empowers us to find ways to disrupt that.”

The full Q&A with Cheng and Paz, including a deeper explanation of deficit thinking and more details regarding their experience in the SAA program thus far, is available here.


The Student Affairs Administration program is currently accepting applications for the 2021 cohort. Classes begin September 2021. Learn more about application requirements on our admissions page, or plan to attend a virtual information session.

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