July 28, 2023

Briana “Noni” Villalobos

Student Affairs Administration, MA ’22

Briana “Noni” Villalobos discovered personal and professional transformation through the Student Affairs Administration program, solidifying their passion for student advising, and the integration of social justice.

Briana Noni Villalobos, MA '22 At the heart of every college is a team of student affairs administrators working behind the scenes to create an environment of care, support, and inclusion. Briana “Noni” Villalobos, who earned her MA in Student Affairs Administration in 2022, longed to work amongst such scholars fighting for student equity.

While it was Lewis & Clark’s lush 134 acre campus that originally attracted Villalobos (she admits to having “a thing for small campuses tucked away in forests”), it was L&C’s holistic integration of social justice that distinguished it from other forested hideaways. Villalobos did not simply want to approach social justice from a performative perspective, but rather actively “embed social justice throughout every conversation, workshop, and event”. Seeing this integration mirrored in L&C’s curriculum was precisely the approach she was looking for.

The core of the Student Affairs Administration Program is to teach us as practitioners and researchers to challenge injustice in higher education, and provide us with the tools to imbed social justice, equity, and access into our praxis and research. Each course, from finance to student development, weaves equity throughout.

This story of integration runs true throughout Villalobos’s journey. They share that their unique perspective, situated at the intersection of multiple identities including being “first-generation, white/latinx, queer, femme” allowed her to bridge and integrate both privileged and marginalized viewpoints. Knowing the “challenges of navigating higher education” firsthand, Villalobos decided to dedicate themself to the pursuit of student advocacy.

The Student Affairs Administration Program allows students the opportunity to work alongside distinguished practitioners at the college, applying their academic studies through real-world experiences in higher education. For Villalobos, this opportunity was integral to her development as a professional.

My experience in the Office of Student Accessibility solidified my love for advising and case management. I appreciated the opportunity to act as an advocate for Lewis & Clark students, and help provide holistic student support. This experience helped me get clear on the types of roles and experiences I wish to pursue post-grad.

Of course, Villalobos’ experience was not without challenges. The global COVID-19 pandemic was a curveball no one saw coming.

“My program began in Fall 2020, so in many respects we were the COVID-19 cohort. We did not meet in person until Fall 2021, however we stayed connected through group chats, and occasional outside masked gatherings. I feel I now have a solid network of both fellow cohort mates and faculty to rely on throughout my career in student affairs.”

As any student affairs professional can attest, a network of support and a cohort of like-minded colleagues is crucial in the development of student-centered success. Lewis & Clark’s focus on community cultivation and mentorship allowed Villalobos to form deep bonds and find support during the most challenging of times. Her professors were more than just educators, also acting as advisors and confidants. She notes, “If I have a pressing question or am in need of support, they’re there for me!”

Looking back, Villalobos reflects on the many moments of transformation and expansion they experienced both inside and outside of the classroom. Academically, they were astounded by the power of their Pedagogy course, noting that it “was revolutionary”.

“Truly, the theory and practice of pedagogy helped widen my perspective of what is possible in higher education.”

Outside of the classroom, they found tremendous support from their peers through social solidarity. She notes that, despite the demands, “we made it work by supporting each other, and giving a hand if we had capacity”.

It was these very connections that kept Villalobos motivated and grounded during her time at Lewis & Clark. She urges future students to “secure your relationships with your community… you will rely on them heavily for support”.

In reflection, Villalobos focuses on one word that summarizes her experience… gratitude . Gratitude for her peers, gratitude for her personal expansion, and gratitude for Lewis & Clark’s commitment to social justice.

“The Student Affairs Administration program truly prepares you to enter the field with an equitable framework, in hopes of creating long lasting change. If that type of thing tickles your fancy, then you’ll just LOVE it.”