More than 70% of college students motivated by social justice

Race, culture and climate change among popular pursuits.
By: | August 2, 2021
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George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter. Voting rights. Climate change. Food insecurity. The political divide.

Name a topic above that gripped the nation over the past year, and it is likely students were aware of it or were strongly pursuing it. In fact, a new study conducted by BestColleges.com last week shows that more than two-thirds of students surveyed said they were interested in social justice topics and more than half got involved in one or more topics in some way.

“The fight for social justice has gained momentum throughout the last year as awareness of several issues has grown,” said Dr. Cobretti Williams, Senior Editor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for BestColleges.com. “Increased protests and demands for equality have altered the social climate across the country’s college campuses, and students believe it will all make a difference.”

Perhaps the most significant and most prominent was the Floyd murder, which saw hundreds of thousands of students nationwide joining protests over policing. Of those that took part in marches from Minnesota to Washington D.C. and in other pivotal causes, 65% felt they were helping bring change.

For campus leaders, the data presented by BestColleges provide a pulse into how and why students are reacting to major movements. They are in fact reading and following the news, with 46% saying they were sparked by knowledge of an issue they’re pursuing. A third feel personal connections, either through their own identity or a family member who might be affected by one of the issues. The majority of those getting involved were Black (51%) and Latinx (49%) students, with race and culture, respectively, as their driving forces. Race and culture were the top two motivating factors among all students surveyed, with developmental and acquired disabilities (59%) and ethnicity and nationality (57%) listed third and fourth.

An interesting soundbite from the survey is that although colleges do provide sources of information for students—especially via clubs or professors—it is a small percentage, less than 25%. Friends and parents have even less influence. The most impactful forces are community groups and the media, at around 44%. However, colleges can still help. Despite the lean to get information on their own, about half of students said they’d be interested in pursuing careers or coursework around those subjects.

“The college experience is often one of self-discovery, and it is at this pivotal time in a person’s life when one can gather information about issues of importance and make connections to their own identity—impacting the adult they will eventually become,” said Dr. Williams.