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When Students Speak Out: Understanding the Motivations for I, Too, Am Mobilization

by Richard S. L. Blissett, Dominique J. Baker & Benjamin C. Fields - 2020

Background: Beginning in the 2013–2014 school year, students across colleges and universities in the United States created a series of campaigns similar to the original I, Too, Am Harvard photo campaign (which focused on highlighting the negative campus climate for black students at Harvard University).

Purpose: This study illuminates some of the reasons why students decided to mobilize in order to provide a clearer understanding of what students are identifying as problems on college campuses.

Subjects: Evidence in this study is drawn from two sources: student newspapers from campuses with a campaign supplemented by interviews with students who were involved with the campaigns.

Research Design: This qualitative case study uses both the newspapers and the interviews as sources of evidence.

Results: We find that the campaigns were primarily motivated by negative campus climates for students from historically marginalized populations, and that these climates were in place before the movements emerged. The campaigns developed within a larger macropolitical context in which there was a larger focus on inclusion. Also, the movements tended to have a specific focus on exposing microaggressions, providing a space for students to speak out, and expressing solidarity.

Conclusions: If institutions have a vested interest in creating more welcoming environments, then proactively addressing the experiences of students on campus, expanding the scope of diversity initiatives to include this focus, and providing spaces for students to be able to express and discuss their experiences may be critical to success.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 3, 2020, p. 1-36
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22991, Date Accessed: 9/26/2021 11:53:52 PM

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About the Author
  • Richard Blissett
    Seton Hall University
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD S. L. BLISSETT is an assistant professor in the Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University. His research interests focus on the attitudinal and behavioral dimensions of the politics of education. Recent publications include an analysis of citizens’ information seeking behavior when learning about charter schools, a study on the predictors of school board members’ policy priorities, and a series of studies looking at student mobilization on college campuses.
  • Dominique Baker
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    DOMINIQUE J. BAKER is an assistant professor of education policy in the Simmons College of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. She has recently published the article “Beyond the incident: Institutional predictors of student collective action” in the Journal of Higher Education with Dr. Richard Blissett as well as the article “Impact of community college student debt levels on credit accumulation” with Dr. William Doyle in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Dr. Baker is currently involved in research projects focused on creating inclusive campus climates and analyzing student financial aid.
  • Benjamin Fields
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    BENJAMIN C. FIELDS is a college counselor at KIPP Colorado and a research assistant at Vanderbilt University. He is currently involved in a project examining the social mechanisms driving post-doctoral fellows out of academia. His main research interests lie in identity development and control.
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