Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Donna Talbot

Second Advisor

Dr. Andrea L. Beach

Third Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey P. Bouman


Student activism, symbolic interactionism, institutional culture, Christian college, millennial students, case study


This study contributes to the description and meaning of student activism within the context of Christian college environments and cultures, and is interpreted through the sociological concept of symbolic interactionism. The purpose of this study is to help fill the void in the literature on student activism at Christian colleges and universities, positioning it within literature of broader Christian culture and activism, Christian higher education, generational history of college student activism, and student development theories and leadership models. The goal of the study is to help create an understanding of how students at Christian institutions understand and engage in activism within their college’s culture, and to provide institutional leaders information about these student activists and campus cultures as they create policy, plan learning activities and programs, and advise students.

This multi-case study, conducted at two Christian colleges in the Midwest, answers the questions: How do current students, studying at a Christian college or university, understand the concept of activism; what are the institutional facilitating factors or barriers in relation to student activism and how do they shape student activities; and how do students make meaning of their activism within the Christian campus culture as they think about their future activism? Data were received through 23 individual interviews with elite samples of student activists and were triangulated through two follow-up focus groups, 15 individual interviews with elite samples of staff and faculty, campus observation, and archival records. One finding to emerge from the within-case analysis and multi-case synthesis was that student activists at Christian colleges understand activism the way their institutions teach them and through an educational paradigm. Student activists were also found to embrace and work within institutional systems that control student activism, making meaning of their activism through their institutional construct.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access