Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Black and Brown Millennial Activism on a PWI Campus in the Era of Trump

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Black and Brown Millennial Activism on a PWI Campus in the Era of Trump

Article excerpt


This article is a qualitative study of twelve Black and Brown student activists on Califax College (pseudonym), a predominantly White institution (PWI), during the first one hundred days of Donald Trump's presidency. This study analyzes emergent themes of the campus climate, the impact of campus climate on students' identities as activists, how students at Califax College made sense of individual and collective activism, and their thinking about activism in the contemporary national landscape. This study was approached by combining aspects of civic engagement conceptual and critical race theoretical (CRT) frameworks. The question that drives this study is, how do Black and Brown activists make sense of their activism on a PWI within the first one hundred days of the Trump administration?

By most standards, the first one hundred days of the Trump presidency have been characterized by highly unusual and consequential actions (Quoctrung et al., 2017). In the Trump era, the country has experienced a rapidly changing and at times volatile political landscape. Given the consequential changes in the national landscape, we thought it necessary to capture how student activists are responding to the political shifts. Additionally, there is little research on how social media has shaped millennial activists' identities and how Black and Brown millennials conceive of civic engagement as a form of activism. Lastly, since Black and Brown voices are so often relegated to the margins of the scholarly discourse about civic engagement, we view this as an opportunity to highlight voices that complicate dominant narratives about what counts as civic engagement on campuses and in the broader society. Our work blends the civic and critical lenses to contribute to a small but growing body of literature on critical civic engagement, by nondominant youth, who are employing contemporary activist tools, such as social media, in a unique socio-historical context.


This study draws on elements of critical civic engagement conceptual and a Critical Race Theoretical (CRT) framework to situate and analyze contemporary narratives of Black and Brown millennial activism. The authors utilize the term "youth" to refer to members of the millennial generation, those born between 1982-2000, persons between the ages of 17-34 at the time of this writing (Census Bureau, 2015). We bring civic engagement and CRT frames together to best understand student activists' narratives not only as forms of civic engagement, but also as experiences that are informed by minoritized racial identities in the context of a predominately White campus. To elucidate the framework, a brief overview of each tradition's scholarship is provided to illustrate the theoretical/conceptual convergence that undergirds the analysis.

While the majority of civics and social movements scholars assert that most college attending millennials are civically engaged, there is, however, a robust debate about a civics engagement gap related to race and socioeconomic status (Hart &Atkins 2002; Jankowski, 2002; Levinson, 2012; Sherrod, 2003). Some scholars claim that Black and Brown youth perform worse than their White peers on standard civic engagement measurements such as examinations of civic knowledge, participation in traditional civic organizations, and voting (Levinson, 2012). Hart and Atkins (2002) claim "throughout childhood and adolescence, Black and Hispanic youth are more than twice as likely as White children to lack basic proficiency in civics" (p. 229). Scholars who call attention to the civics gap often highlight attitudinal measures related to trust, efficacy, and belonging, as reasons for disengaged or less-engaged Black and Brown youth (Cohen, 2006). Sherrod (2003) and Jankowski (1992, 2002) claim that youth who feel marginalized from the mainstream, specifically poor and minority youth, are particularly politically disaffected. …

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