College Student Environmental Activism: How Experiences and Identities Influence Environmental Activism Approaches

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College Student Environmental Activism: How Experiences and Identities Influence Environmental Activism Approaches

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College student environmental activism is one way students civically engage in addressing social issues. This study explores the environmental activism of twelve college students and how their experiences outside of college and in college influenced their activism. In addition, how students’ identities influenced their approach to activism was considered. Each participant approached environmental activism in their own unique way. The way in which students engaged with environmental activism was shaped by their childhood experiences, their worldview, and experiences in College both in and out of the classroom. The identities of participants influenced how they were involved and why they were involved in the current social movement. Students conceptualized the environmental movement and their role in it in different ways. The current movement focused less on saving wilderness and more on addressing climate change and related social issues. The activities participants engaged in fell on a continuum from volunteerism to advocating for social change. Students’ environmental activism was supported by family, peers, K-12 education, and spending time in nature as children. In college, students emphasized the importance of peer networks, interactions with faculty members, and experiences in classes. Students’ identities intersected in unique ways and influenced why they were involved in and how they approached environmental activism. Students discussed the way in which their identities of gender, race, and class shaped their involvement. In addition, some students viewed their sexuality, spirituality, and being a young person as key influencers. Students said their biographic availability enabled them to be involved in environmental activism. Student environmental activists were concerned about oppression and privilege related to how the environmental movement addresses social change.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2016. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Rebecca Ropers-Huilman. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 279 pages.

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