Activism and leadership development: Examining the relationship between college student activism involvement and socially responsible leadership capacity

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The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between participation in student activism and leadership development among college students. This study applied the social change model of leadership development (SCM) as the theoretical model used to measure socially responsible leadership capacity in students. The study utilized data collected from the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL), a research project examining the influences of higher education on leadership development in college students across the country. The sample of 12,510 students consisted of respondents who participated in a sub-study on student activism within the MSL survey. Hierarchical multiple regression models were constructed to investigate the research question using an adapted version of Astin's (1991) I-E-O college impact model. Regression models included participant demographic characteristics, pre-college experiences, institutional descriptors, and consideration of select college experiences in examining the relationship between activism and leadership development.

Results indicated that the regression models explained a significant amount of the variance in participant scores. Participation and holding a leadership position in on-campus and off-campus organizations, community service conducted on one's own, and participation in an internship emerged as significant predictors of socially responsible leadership capacity among the collegiate experiences included in the model. Participation in activism also emerged as significant, as awareness of local, national, and global issues indicated influence on all leadership development measures, and participating in protests, contacting public officials, signing a petition, and buying or not buying products due to personal views significantly contributed to measures of citizenship. These findings served to address the existing gap in the literature pertaining to the relationship of student activism and leadership development, and indicated the developmental and educational potential to providing these experiences for students on campus.