Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Jaekel, Katy

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE)


Student affairs professionals (SAPs) are no strangers to experiencing secondary trauma as their work in multiple fields brings them in close contact with students in crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education found its world turned upside down and students were facing heightened trauma due changing class modalities, problematic finances, disruptive living situations, lack of basic needs, as wells as virus-related death and sickness. This phenomenological research study examines the essence of secondary trauma specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic experienced by SAPs who work as Deans of Students, Case Managers, Housing Professionals, and Cultural Resource Center Professionals. This research interviewed 12 participants from across the United States and asked each to bring with them a photo that connected them to their work with students in trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic. What was discovered from this new research was that the SAPs were fundamentally altered as people and professionals by a "Cosmic Ray Phenomenon." Aspects associated with secondary trauma throughout literature such as burnout, surface acting, and compassion fatigue, along with described feelings of helplessness, the impact of institutional abandonment, and just a flickering sense of hope while assisting students during COVID-19 changed SAPs at their core and left them questioning who they are and their futures. This research describes the "Cosmic Ray Phenomenon" from participants’ own words and examines the path forward for SAPs. The findings are relevant as institutions contemplate how to best support students in the years ahead. It is important for institutions to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their staff emotionally and find ways to help the helpers of students in trauma.


148 pages




Northern Illinois University

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In Copyright

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NIU theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from Huskie Commons for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without the written permission of the authors.

Media Type