Who Stole the Soul: Black Student Sociopolitical Solidarity in the Twenty-First Century

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Degree type
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Black students
Campus activism
Higher education
Sociopolitical solidarity
Student engagement
African American Studies
Higher Education Administration
Higher Education and Teaching
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Peterson, Brian F

The 1960s and `70s marked the most historic transformational period of Black college student enrollments and sociopolitical presence at predominantly White institutions in the United States. Research on Black student solidarity and social movements typically refers back to this era, with very little attention given to the ways that today's Black college students - the beneficiaries of the previous Black campus activist efforts - continue this work. This study explores contemporary Black student sociopolitical solidarity and the role that the institution plays in shaping it. The following questions guided this study: How has Black students' sense of activism evolved from the post-Civil Rights era to the present day? How do Black students engage social and political issues that have historically and contemporarily impacted them on campus? How do the practices, policies, and culture of predominantly White postsecondary institutions shape Black sociopolitical solidarity? Qualitative research methods were used within a case study of a selective research institution. The study site was chosen because of its representative history of racial conflict and Black student activism, along with its prominent continued commitment to diversity efforts. Fifty-two undergraduate students, faculty members, administrators, and alumni participated in semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Analysis was also conducted on archival material including institutional reports and campus newspaper articles. The findings show that a complex interplay of factors, including the increased selectivity of university admissions and the institutionalization of student protest, has transformed the ways that students perceive and participate in sociopolitical activities. Further, for "the Black community" at the institution (students, faculty, and administrators), the findings reveal an exceptional level of additional "burdens" (stressors, commitments, and barriers) that often go unrecognized by both the individual experiencing them and the wider community, but can drastically influence daily experiences on campus and broader sociopolitical engagement. Recommendations are offered for how the insights gained in this study may be used to enhance student development and institutional diversity initiatives through more informed and strategic community-building efforts.

Shaun R. Harper
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