Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Heterogeneity of Resistance: How Black Students Utilize Engagement and Activism to Challenge PWI Inequalities

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Heterogeneity of Resistance: How Black Students Utilize Engagement and Activism to Challenge PWI Inequalities

Article excerpt

Student activism has been rekindled in the mid-2010s. Incidents at universities nationwide specifically focused on racism and police violence-totaled 61 protests out of 160 incidents of student activism during this time (Johnston, 2014). A vivid example of protest occurred at the University of Missouri, where the "Concerned Student 1950" movement culminated with the resignation of the president and system chancellor (Eligon & Pérez-Peña, 2015). Some scholars have pointed to the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a galvanizing force mobilizing Black students, especially, to demand systemic changes in how predominantly White institutions (PWIs) address systemic racism on and surrounding campuses (Wilson, 2015).

Black students in particular have challenged PWIs' historically race neutral ideologies, noting that these ideologies and discourses continue to mask the unequal distribution of power in institutions and society (Gusa, 2010; Patel, 2015). Furthermore, anti-racist discourse "absolves predominantly White universities of any responsibility in substantively altering institutional policies and decision-making, effectively leaving the burden of racism to people of color" (Hamer & Lang, 2015, p. 898).

As scholars support the liberatory approach that Black students have engaged in via activism, it is important to contextualize their attempts in the current era. This includes a move away from narrowly definitions of activism (Ellis-Williams, 2007), the role of realized consequences affecting individual and collective action (Evans & Moore, 2015), and the heterogeneity of organizational involvement students of color use to represent a social justice lens (Harper & Quaye, 2007; Museus, 2008). Since defining resistance to social inequity is complex (including individual, collective, and institutional levels; Hollander & Einwohner, 2004), and the resistance of current youth is often compared to past generations, the authors sought to center the study on the experiential knowledge of students entrenched in the work themselves. The experiential knowledge of people of color is "legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing, and teaching about racial subordination (Solórzano & Yosso, 2016, p. 129). Therefore, the purpose of the study was to explore the perceptions of Black student leaders at a southern PWI, who are immersed in affecting campus climate and inspiring multiple forms of resistance, challenge inequality individually as well as through mobilization of the Black student community. The following questions guided the study:

* How do Black collegians utilize their engagement and activism efforts within a PWI to reduce campus inequalities?

* How do Black collegians seek to influence exclusionary campus climate practices and policies that perpetuate discrimination and barriers to increased diversity?

The authors sought to center the complexity of Black student leadership through the worldview of individuals who were dedicated to fighting the constraints of social racism in representations tied to larger collective social movements, and by doing so, provide a more holistic understanding of the heterogeneity of Black student leadership.

Relevant Literature

Defining Activism and its Role in Higher Education

Historically, students have been an integral catalyst for change in higher education, calling attention to institutional and societal power structures that reinforce inequity. Activism encompasses a variety of behaviors and efforts to address various social, economic, and political issues; it can be depicted as the strategic action individuals enact to contest injustice and provide alternative solutions, dialogues, and possible pathways to change (Hamrick, 1998; Kezar, 2010; Ropers-Huilman, Carwile, & Barnett, 2005). At the core of student activism lies the ideal of resistance to some form of oppression. In contextualizing student resistance to various power structures, Boren (2001) stated, "in combating those forces, they are in actuality resisting aggression and suppression" (p. …

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