ArticlePDF Available


The emergence of social media has greatly influenced 21st-century student activism. It has also given rise to the birth of “slacktivism,” an online form of self-aggrandizing, politically ineffective activism. This theoretical article delves into the conceptualizations of what constitutes student activism versus slacktivism in a digital age. While there are distinctions between the 2, we highlight how most discussions of activism describe how activism is done as opposed to what it is. Within this context, we offer 10 theoretical underpinnings of activism and slacktivism to serve as conceptual points of self-reflection that student activists can use in order to explore whether or not they are truly engaging in activism. This examination, we argue, is critically important as the distinction between slacktivism and activism becomes increasingly muddied. For student activism to realize its democratic and developmental potential, students need to be clear about whether they are engaging in activism or slacktivism.
Journal of Diversity in Higher Education
Activism or Slacktivism? The Potential and Pitfalls of
Social Media in Contemporary Student Activism
Nolan L. Cabrera, Cheryl E. Matias, and Roberto Montoya
Online First Publication, April 3, 2017.
Cabrera, N. L., Matias, C. E., & Montoya, R. (2017, April 3). Activism or Slacktivism? The Potential
and Pitfalls of Social Media in Contemporary Student Activism. Journal of Diversity in Higher
Education. Advance online publication.
Activism or Slacktivism? The Potential and Pitfalls of Social Media
in Contemporary Student Activism
Nolan L. Cabrera
University of Arizona
Cheryl E. Matias and Roberto Montoya
University of Colorado, Denver
The emergence of social media has greatly influenced 21st-century student activism. It
has also given rise to the birth of “slacktivism,” an online form of self-aggrandizing,
politically ineffective activism. This theoretical article delves into the conceptualiza-
tions of what constitutes student activism versus slacktivism in a digital age. While
there are distinctions between the 2, we highlight how most discussions of activism
describe how activism is done as opposed to what it is. Within this context, we offer
10 theoretical underpinnings of activism and slacktivism to serve as conceptual points
of self-reflection that student activists can use in order to explore whether or not they
are truly engaging in activism. This examination, we argue, is critically important as the
distinction between slacktivism and activism becomes increasingly muddied. For
student activism to realize its democratic and developmental potential, students need to
be clear about whether they are engaging in activism or slacktivism.
Keywords: slacktivism, armchair activism, student activism, power, hegemony
In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron wrote the classic
spoken-word recording, “The Revolution Will
Not Be Televised.” Within it he offered,
You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised
Despite the popularity of TV, Scott-Heron
(1970) thought social progress occurred in the
streets and not on the couch. Forty-five years
later, commentators are furiously debating the
role of social media in political activism. For
example, conservative commentator Andrew
Sullivan (2009) proclaimed during the uprising
in Iran, “The revolution will be Twittered,” as
he saw social media playing a central role in
fostering social change. Conversely, Malcolm
Gladwell (2010) delivered a scathing critique of
Internet activism in “Small change: Why the
revolution will not be tweeted.” Within his
piece, he argued social media does very little to
produce tangible social change and is becoming
a substitute for in-person activism. These de-
bates involve the perceived importance (or lack
thereof) regarding social media in contempo-
rary social movements. The situation has be-
come more complicated as social media is in-
creasingly utilized by contemporary, grassroots
organizers (Obar, 2014; Obar, Zube, & Lampe,
2012), including college students (Biddix,
2010). Yet embedded in these online activities
are instances of lackluster support hidden under
the guise of simple “shares,” “likes,” and “fa-
vorites.” Can online displays of support equate
to activism or should they be seen as “slacktiv-
ism”? Christensen (2011) succinctly defined
slacktivism as “political activities that have no
impact on real-life political outcomes, but only
serve to increase the feel-good factor of the
participants” (p. 1). Thus, social media create
Nolan L. Cabrera, Center for the Study of Higher Edu-
cation, University of Arizona; Cheryl E. Matias, Urban
Community Teacher Education, University of Colorado,
Denver; Roberto Montoya, Urban Ecology Program, Uni-
versity of Colorado, Denver.
Special note to student activists: May you always allow
your heart, spirit, and intellect to guide your participation in
the struggle for a more equitable, socially just society.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Nolan L. Cabrera, Center for the Study of Higher
Education, University of Arizona, College of Education,
Room 327B, P.O. Box 210069, Tucson, AZ 85721. E-mail:
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Diversity in Higher Education © 2017 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
2017, Vol. 1, No. 2, 000 1938-8926/17/$12.00
tensions for contemporary activists because it
poses the central and ongoing question, “Am I
engaging in activism or slacktivism?”
Historically, college student activism has
been at the center of higher education curricu-
lar, faculty, and student body diversification
efforts—in particular along the lines of race/
ethnicity (Rogers, 2012; Rojas, 2006; William-
son, 2003). However, most social movement/
social activism scholarship is retrospective in
nature and centers how activism is done as
opposed to what activism is (e.g., McAdam,
1986; McAdam, & Paulsen, 1993). In a digital
age, forward thinking is increasingly important
for activists because without an understanding
of what constitutes activism, it can be difficult
to grapple with the aforementioned question
regarding activism/slacktivism. As Freire
(2000) reminds critical self-reflection is a core
component to the development of conscientiza-
ção (the combination of critical consciousness,
self-reflection, and engaging in antioppressive,
collective action). Thus, one component of ac-
tivism is self-interrogation, but how can one
meaningfully do this if they cannot define ac-
tivism? Within this context, we develop and
offer 10 premises regarding the nature of activ-
We build the 10 premises in the following
way. First, we offer Lukes’ (2005) three di-
mensions of power because competing power
dynamics are at the core of activism, yet
power is rarely defined explicitly in these
analyses. Second, we highlight how college
student activism has historically been at the
center of many higher-education diversity ef-
forts. Third, we offer the empirical literature
on slacktivism, highlighting how the distinc-
tion between activism and slacktivism is
blurry and sometimes activism, in a digital
age, relies on the slacktivism of the masses.
Finally, we offer 10 premises generally rooted
in seminal scholar/activism literature that fur-
ther help delineate the core of what activism
and slacktivism are. We do this because stu-
dent activism has been at the center of push-
ing higher education to be more democratic
and inclusive (Broadhurst, 2014; Pasque &
Vargas, 2014), and therefore grappling with
the tensions slacktivism poses is central to
realizing this potential in a digital age (Bid-
dix, 2010).
What Is Power and How Is It Related to
Student Activism?
Within institutions of higher education, stu-
dent activism has historically challenged the
power structures that exclude minoritized pop-
ulations from full participation (P. Lee, 2011;
S. A. Muñoz, 2015; Rogers, 2012; Rojas, 2006).
To explore the nature of power we rely on
Steven Lukes’s (2005) three-dimensional view.
We think Lukes’s theorizing of power is the
most relevant to this analysis for two reasons.
First, his three-dimensional view offers a more
nuanced and thorough understanding than the
colloquial X participates in decision making
that affects Y (although this is part of his for-
mulation). We detail these nuances later in this
section. Second, Lukes’s (2005) radical view
most closely aligns with the epistemological
and ontological perspectives that tend to guide
the type of social activism explored in this ar-
Within Lukes’s (2005) three-dimensional
view of power, each additional dimension is
both a critique of the previous that also incor-
porates components of the others. According to
Lukes, the one-dimensional view of power in-
volves A exerting his will over B, making B do
something he would not have done of his own
accord. For example, a campus administrator
creates a “free-speech zone” making other areas
of campus off limits for social protest. This is an
exercise of power because the campus admin-
istrator (A) compels students (B) to contain
their protest activities to a specific area when
they could, otherwise, protest throughout the
campus. The two-dimensional view additionally
argues that if B makes a plea to A for a policy
change, A has the ability to enact change and
does nothing; this is also an exercise of power.
For example, if student protesters (B) demand
that a campus administrator (A) only allow
sweatshop-free clothing to be sold in the student
union, and the campus administrator ignores the
petition, this is a demonstration of power in and
of itself.
Then, Lukes (2005) critiqued the one- and
two-dimensional views as being overly behav-
ioristic, arguing that power can also be exer-
cised through social structures which are be-
yond the scope of individual decisions. This
leads to the third dimension, which incorporates
hegemonic forces. Hegemony refers to the cul-
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
tural and discursive practices, which make so-
cial oppression appear naturally occurring as
opposed to structured (Gramsci, 1971). The
power in this structure, according to Lukes
(2005), is that it restricts the range of options
available to the masses, and reflects the prefer-
ences of the dominant social class. For example,
institutions of higher education pursue out of
state students to increase tuition revenue even
though this pushes out low-income and racial
minority students (Jaquette, Curs, & Posselt, in
press). Within this neoliberal paradigm, institu-
tions try to maximize their individual market
share, but the logic of capitalist production is
left unquestioned (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2000).
Thus, neoliberalism limiting the range of op-
tions for institutions of higher education is an
example of power. Conversely, student activists
agitating to make institutions more open and
inclusive can also be an example of exercising
power (Biddix, 2010; Pasque & Vargas, 2014).
Student Activism and Campus Diversity
Student activism has been central to increas-
ing campus-based diversity whether the issue
involves affirmative action (Rhoads, Saenz, &
Carducci, 2005), curricular diversity (Rhoads,
1998b; Rojas, 2006; Slaughter, 1997), faculty
diversity (P. Lee, 2011), or supporting undocu-
mented students (Gonzalez, 2008). Across a
swath of diversity-related issues, student activ-
ists have been at the center of advocating for
increasing inclusion, making the college cam-
pus a more democratic space (Broadhurst, 2014;
Rhoads, 1998a; Rogers, 2012; Rojas, 2006;
Williamson, 2003). Some have even argued that
these forms of social protest are developmental
mechanisms for students learning and being in-
volved in participatory democracy (Biddix,
2010; Kezar, 2010; Rhoads, 1998b; Slocum &
Rhoads, 2009).
There is a small, but growing area of research
that explores relationships between student ac-
tivists and institutional agents (e.g., Gaston-
Gayles, Wolf-Wendel, Twombly, Ward, &
Tuttle, 2005). Frequently, student activists and
representatives of colleges/universities are
framed as mutually antagonistic entities. As
Barnhardt (2014) argued, “[Activist] tactics op-
erate as a public expression—by a group—that
challenges the taken-for-granted authority rela-
tionship” (p. 45). Kezar (2010) modified this
notion by arguing that faculty and staff partner-
ing with student activists can actually help, col-
lectively, to push institutions of higher educa-
tion to be more democratic, inclusive spaces.
Gaston-Gayles et al. (2005) offered a similar
argument specifically focusing on the history of
student affairs professionals. They highlight
how prior to the 1960s, student affairs profes-
sionals were primarily disciplinarians. This era
shifted the ethos to one where student affairs
professionals are more mediators who, interest-
ingly, are also able to promote social change on
While many have written about college stu-
dent activism, few have actually defined it. For
example, Rhoads (1998a) clearly operational-
ized student demonstrations as “visible public
protests organized by students to call attention
to a particular concern or set of concerns” (p.
vii, italics in original). Within this important
text, however, Rhoads never defined student
activism. Instead, he began with action (student
demonstrations) and worked backward, defining
those engaged in the action (activists). This is a
very common theme in the scholarly literature
as most analyses regarding campus-based stu-
dent activism tends to focus on discrete histor-
ical movements and instances of social protest
(e.g., Biondi, 2012; Cohen & Snyder, 2013;
McAdam, 1986; C. Muñoz, 1989; Rogers,
2012; Williamson, 2003). Frequently rooted in
social movement theory, many of the analyses
either center the tactics/repertoires of the activ-
ists (e.g., Barnhardt, 2014; McAdam & Paulsen,
1993; Van Dyke, 2003) or explore the develop-
mental opportunities that student activism of-
fers (e.g., Biddix, 2010; Kezar, 2010; Rhoads,
1998b). These scholars did not have to concern
themselves with differentiating between activ-
ism and slacktivism because they focused on
events which were already deemed activism.
Thus, we are left with how Justice Potter Stew-
art defined pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio
(1964): “I know it when I see it.”
One scholarly piece that comes closest to
defining activism is Urrieta’s (2009) Working
From Within. His analysis focused on Chicana
and Chicano educators who work to affect so-
cial change within educational institutions. He
argued traditional forms of activism (e.g.,
marches and boycotts) were not the only ways
that change can occur, and sought a more ex-
pansive view of activism. Despite this, he did
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
not explicitly define the underlying conceptual
underpinnings of what constitutes social activ-
ism much like the rest of the scholarship in this
section. Thus, the analyses of student activism
do not offer a means to answer the central
question, What is student activism? We return
to this issue in our 10-premises section, but we
first address, What is slacktivism?
What Is Slacktivism and How Is It Related
to Activism?
Analyses of student activism tend to be sep-
arated from analyses of slacktivism; therefore,
we need to rely on nonhigher education schol-
arship to frame this concept. Slacktivism has
been divided into five subcategories: clicktiv-
ism, sympathy, political, charity (direct), and
charity (by-product of consumption), and the
term tends to be pejorative (Christensen, 2011;
Morozov, 2009; Vie, 2014). Christensen further
argued that slacktivism is not a new phenome-
non. For example, the term was actually created
in 1995 as a synonym for “armchair activism”;
however, contemporarily slacktivism has be-
come equated with politically ineffective, on-
line actions (Morozov, 2009).
Although Morozov’s (2009) book Net Delu-
sion is one of the most cited pieces regarding
slacktivism, he only mentioned slacktivism on 6
pages of the 408-page book. The book was
actually written in opposition to Internet utopia-
nism. Many social commentators, according to
Morozov (2009), were quick to dub the Internet
an inherently antiauthoritarian and democratiz-
ing sphere, and this never materialized. For
instance, Morozov analyzed the number of peo-
ple who “liked” the “Saving the Children of
Africa” Facebook page versus those who actu-
ally donated. He argued that the 1/100 of one
penny donated (on average) by every person
who liked the page would be better served if
people actually had strong ties to a specific
cause. That is, the cause would have been better
served if all those people who liked the page
actually dedicated some time and resources to
it. This is commonly referred to as the “replace-
ment thesis,” where slacktivism takes the time
and energy of more meaningful engagement.
In defining slacktivism, political ineffective-
ness is a core characteristic (Christensen, 2011;
Morozov, 2009), but scholars disagree about
how to operationalize efficacy (Vie, 2014). For
example, Vie (2014) analyzed the Human
Rights Campaign’s Facebook campaign that en-
couraged supporters to change their profile pic-
ture to the red logo in support of gay marriage.
While the individual actions of changing profile
pictures could be deemed as mere slacktivism,
Vie (2014) argued the massive online response
helped the issue gain prominence in the popular
discourse. Vie (2014) furthered this discursive
shift challenged societal power dynamics, and
as a whole was an effective form of online
Furthermore, delineating between activism
and slacktivism is conceptually difficult to op-
erationalize because the line is very blurry (e.g.,
Christensen, 2011; Jones, 2015; Hu, 2014;
Y.-H. Lee & Hsieh, 2013; Obar, 2014;
Segerberg & Bennett, 2011; Šteˇka & Mazák,
2014). Each is a descriptor of behavior where
the same individual can sometimes engage in
activism, other times slacktivism, and some-
times participating in slacktivism is a precursor
to involvement in more meaningful social pro-
test (Kristofferson, White, & Peloza, 2013).
Šteˇka and Mazák (2014) explored political en-
gagement in the 2013 Czech parliamentary
elections, and they found that those engaged in
typical forms of slacktivism were also more
likely to also participate in traditional forms of
social activism. Obar (2014) additionally ar-
gued that slacktivist activities were central to
the strategies of larger advocacy groups; how-
ever, Obar also noted smaller advocacy groups
tended to focus on more traditional forms of
activism because they could not divert their
limited resources to risky slacktivist activities
(Obar, 2014; Obar, Zube, & Lampe, 2012).
Y.-H. Lee and Hsieh (2013) found that people
who signed a petition were significantly more
likely to give money to that particular cause.
Interestingly, they also found that people who
decided not to sign the petition, were signifi-
cantly more likely to donate to a completely
unrelated cause, a phenomenon the authors re-
ferred to as moral balancing.
Jones (2015) had similar findings when an-
alyzing social video sharing. Though video
sharing is often considered slacktivism, Jones
found that these activities related to increased
activism. In fact, Jones (2015) went as far as
to specifically critique Morozov, claiming,
“there is no evidence for Morozov’s substitu-
tion thesis” (p. 12). Instead of activism/
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
slacktivism being an either/or, Jones found it
was more of a both/and situation. As Karpf
(2012) argued in his analysis of MoveOn,
“Digital activism is not a replacement for the
Freedom Riders of the 1960s; it is a replace-
ment for ‘armchair activism’ that arose from
the 1970s interest group explosion” (p. 8).
Karpf (2010) further clarified that, for exam-
ple, signing petitions were not an end in and
of themselves, but were the means to the end
of gaining access to people in power.
There is, however, a downside to slacktivism
(Breuer & Farooq, 2012; Cornelissen, Karelaia,
& Soyer, 2013; Waugh, Abdipanah, Hashemi,
Rahaman, & Cook, 2013). For example, Breuer
and Farooq (2012) found in a Brazilian anticor-
ruption campaign, entertainment-based forms of
engagement on social networking sites did
nothing to increase offline participation in the
campaign. Others claim that engaging in “click-
tivism” as a public display of morality can have
immoral consequences (Cornelissen et al.,
2013). Interestingly, Cornelissen et al. (2013)
found those who publicly “liked” a cause were
more likely to privately engage in immoral be-
havior after their public “morality” was estab-
Kristofferson, White, and Peloza (2013) also
explored the difference between public versus
private displays of slacktivism. Specifically, the
more private the slacktivism, the greater the
likelihood of subsequent and deeper engage-
ment with a cause. For those primarily engaged
in public displays, the opposite was true (Krist-
offerson et al., 2013). Thus, slacktivism be-
comes counterproductive when it moves the
focus from the cause to the individual. Within
educational contexts, Matias (2014) argued that
narcissism is central to White teachers who
“save” urban students of color. Regardless to
intent, Matias argued such “altruism” in this
case is a narcissistic maneuver that functionally
assuages White racial guilt and is ineffective at
serving students’ needs. If narcissism and inef-
fectiveness are cornerstones of slacktivism,
what are the foundations of activism? A consis-
tent theme in the student activism scholarship is
the competing power dynamics that either foster
or inhibit social change (Barnhardt, 2014; C.
Muñoz, 1989; Rhoads, 1998a, 1998b; Urrieta,
2009; Van Dyke, 2003).
Ten Points of Reflection: Student Activism
and Slacktivism
We are centrally concerned with the question,
“Am I engaging in activism or slacktivism?”
This is difficult to assess because definitions of
social activism are scant in the scholarly litera-
ture (see Student Activism and Campus Diver-
sity section). Within this context, these prem-
ises are intended to explore the nature of student
activism and slacktivism, which can serve as
points of critical self-reflection as a core com-
ponent of conscientização (Freire, 2000). While
our primary purpose in offering these 10 prem-
ises is to support student activists, they will
likely have relevance to university staff, faculty,
and administrators. Kezar (2010) argued that
campus social change is most effective when
university employees partner with student ac-
tivists, but frequently these relationships do not
form because faculty, staff, and administrators
misunderstand the purpose and nature of activ-
ism as we later elaborate.
Premise 1: Student Activism Involves an
Intentional, Sustained Connection to a
Larger Collective
While we are proponents of individual
agency development, that in and of itself is
insufficient to promote social change. As Ca-
brera (2012) argued, “A social movement of
one is not a social movement at all” (p. 396).
Therefore, for actions to be considered student
activism, they must be intentionally connected
to a larger group. As Anyon (2014) offered,
educational reform will not happen until activ-
ists collectively work with others to “engage in
contentious politics” (p.163) that go beyond the
expectations of “organiz[ing] a movement
alone” (p. 163). Thus, it is important that local-
ized activism (contentious politics) be contex-
tualized among larger challenges to oppressive
social structures (a movement).
Defining this larger group becomes increas-
ingly difficult in a digital age. For example,
Waugh et al. (2013) found in the 2013 Austra-
lian Federal Election that many candidates had
inflated numbers of Twitter followers because
of fake accounts. These were then used to create
a false sense of a candidate’s popularity because
their tweets would be favorited and retweeted
extensively by automated profiles. This is one
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
example of how measuring the scope of online
networks is difficult to assess; however, this
does not undercut the importance of virtual so-
cial ties in contemporary student activism. His-
torically, student activism entails organizing a
collective of people toward a larger social goal
(Barnhardt, 2014; Broadhurst, 2014; McAdam,
1986). This collective is a means by which
students have exercised their power in advocat-
ing for campus reform (Rojas, 2006), and com-
pelling institutions to respond (i.e., the first di-
mension of power; Lukes, 2005).
Social networks are foundational to creating
this collective, and in the digital age it usually
entails developing them both online and in per-
son (Biddix, 2010). The online, however, can-
not be a substitute for the in person (Chris-
tensen, 2011). Part of what makes slacktivism
so frequently ineffective, in particular “clicktiv-
ism,” is that it can remove people from the
collective (Kristofferson et al., 2013; Morozov,
2009). That is, the more public the display of
slacktivism, the lower the subsequent engage-
ment with a larger social movement (Kristoffer-
son et al., 2013).
Premise 2: Student Activism Involves
Developing and Exercising Power
The complexity and nuances of power offers
a more thorough analysis of what constitutes
activism versus slacktivism. For example,
Lukes (2005) argued that exercising power
means making a group to do something they
would not otherwise. This distinction is criti-
cally important in operationalizing student ac-
tivism versus slacktivism. If an action does not
compel the other side to react, there has been no
meaningful demonstration of power. This
should not be misconstrued to imply that activ-
ism necessarily results in a stated goal. When
there are competing power dynamics, there is
no predetermined outcome, and thus, activism
cannot be defined by wins and losses. Rather,
when student activists do not compel their op-
position to respond, their demonstration of
power is minimal.
Sometimes, the student activist strategy in-
volves building awareness around an issue (Vie,
2014), but this type of organizing provides ad-
ditional nuance to analyses of slacktivism and
power. Awareness campaigns develop a constit-
uency of empathizers focused on a specific issue
such as breast cancer (Jacobsen & Jacobsen,
2011). The actual cultivating of empathizers is
not an exercise of power per se, because it does
not compel anyone to act (Lukes, 2005). Rather,
it is more the development of potential power
that can be later exercised in the form of direct
action, lobbying, or even fund raising (Jacobsen
& Jacobsen, 2011; Vie, 2014).
An interesting contemporary example of ac-
tivism and power dynamics comes from the
Occupy movement that started as a critique of
Wall Street greed and spread to dozens of col-
lege campuses throughout the country (Mc-
Carthy, 2012; Wollan & Harris, 2011). Many
have declared Occupy a failure because they did
not secure any structural or policy changes in
terms of alleviating income inequality (e.g.,
Mataconis, 2012; Weiland, Guzman, &
O’Meara, 2013). Returning to Lukes’s (2005)
third dimension of power, hegemonic structur-
ing limits the range of acceptable options avail-
able to the masses, reflecting elite interests. Due
to the efforts of Occupy, the term “The 1%” has
entered the popular lexicon and income inequal-
ity is an issue open for discussion. In this sense,
Occupy opened a closed discourse on income
inequality, but it was only through exercising
their counterhegemonic discursive power.
Some have offered a similar critique of Oc-
cupy to the movements of the 1960s. Anyon
(2014) acknowledged there still exists massive
racial disparities despite the efforts of 1960s
activism, but she also claimed, “[T]o argue that
the Civil Rights Movement failed, is to trivial-
ize the mass oppression that went on before” (p.
149). Thus, student collective action does not
require social transformation to be activism.
Conversely, a key distinguishing feature of
slacktivism is there is no meaningful cultivation
or exercise of power (Christensen, 2011; Krist-
offerson et al., 2013).
Premise 3: Most Contemporary Student
Activism Utilizes Social Media, but Not All
Social Media Usage Is Activism and
Slacktivism Is Contained on the Internet,
but Not All Internet Activity Is Slacktivism
All too often, the use of online platforms to
advance activist goals is simply derided as
slacktivism (e.g., Gladwell, 2010; Morozov,
2009). We argue that it is too simplistic to
define all online activism as slacktivism, even
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
though many commentators have overstated the
importance of social media in contemporary
social movements. For example, former Presi-
dent George W. Bush security advisor Mark
Pheifle declared, “Twitter and its creators are
worthy of being considered for a Nobel Peace
Prize” because of its role in the civil unrest in
Iran (Khan, 2009). Clearly, this was a far reach,
but it does not make the opposite true: that
social media use only represents slacktivism.
One need only examine the online presence
of contemporary student organizers such as
Black Lives Matter (http://blacklivesmatter
.com/), United We Dream (http://unitedwedream
.org/), and the Dream Defenders (http:// to understand that
having an online presence is critically important
to 21st-century student activism. From an em-
pirical perspective, Obar (2014) and Obar,
Zube, and Lampe (2012) found that while there
is uncertainty about the efficacy about social
media usage in activist campaigns, virtually ev-
ery Canadian and U.S. organization in their
samples had an online presence. Thus, social
media are tools and as with any other, they can
be used effectively for social change or ineffec-
tively as self-gratification. The core consider-
ation is whether or not an online presence is at
the service of cultivating or exercising power
(see Premise 2).
The individual gratification coupled with po-
litical ineffectiveness is a key defining charac-
teristic of slacktivism (Cornelissen et al., 2013;
Kristofferson et al., 2013). In particular, the
more public a display of support for a cause
online, the more likely the action represents of
self-serving slacktivism as opposed to socially
transformative activism. There is nothing inher-
ently wrong with people in activist circles feel-
ing good about their efforts. The problem arises
when the self-gratification becomes an end in
and of itself as opposed to a byproduct of the
Premise 4: To Be a Student Activist Is a
Description of Behavior as Opposed
to an Identity
Throughout this article, we primarily focus
on activism/slacktivism as opposed to activists/
slacktivists because the former are descriptions
of behavior whereas the latter are descriptions
of identities. Focusing on whether or not a per-
son is or is not an activist unintentionally un-
dermines the importance of student activism. If
activists engage in activism, what happens
when the activist slips into slacktivism? We are
not interested in working through the nuances of
individual activist identity as that terminology
(individual activist) is an oxymoron (Cabrera,
2012). Instead, we are guided by DiAngelo’s
conception of being a White person engaging in
antiracist practice: “I am a white woman whose
academic, professional, and personal commit-
ment is for people of color to decide if, in any
given moment, I am behaving in anti-racist
ways” (Multicultural, social justice educator,
2015). Her focus is behavior and we prefer this
analysis because action is of central importance
in activism.
Many think of themselves as activists just
like many think of themselves as antiracists, but
concurrently take no actions in support of the
cause they support. Additionally, even those
who engage in activism can slip into irrelevance
due to inactivity. For example, Alinsky (1989)
The trouble with a long jail sentence is that (a) a
revolutionary is removed from action for such an ex-
tended period of time that he loses touch, and (b) if you
are gone long enough everybody forgets about you.
Life goes on, new issues arise, and new leaders appear.
(p. 156)
Much like DiAngelo, Alinsky focused his anal-
ysis on action/inaction. For those who are jailed
for protracted periods of time, their abilities to
engage in activism are severely limited. If too
much inactivity occurs, Alinsky argued that the
grassroots moves on as inactive people become
irrelevant. Contemporary student activism fre-
quently relies on social media as a component
of organizing (Biddix, 2010), and this begs the
question, Does a social media hiatus also lead to
activist irrelevance in a digital age?
Premise 5: Student Activism Must Entail a
Degree of Risk
A key distinction between activism and
slacktivism is the risk that each activity re-
quires. “Liking” a Facebook page generally
does not put a person in danger, but engaging in
activism does. McAdam (1986) analyzed the
differences between those who participated in
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Freedom Summer
versus those who did not.
Through his empirical work, he proposed a the-
oretical distinction between “high-risk activ-
ism” and “low-risk activism.” Implicit in this
formulation is that risk (at varying levels) is
core to anything under the umbrella “activism.”
This makes intuitive sense given the centrality
of power dynamics contextualizing social activ-
ism. That is, because social activism is about
challenging power structures it will incur a level
of risk taking.
The concept of risk adds a contextual layer to
the issue of activism. Civil disobedience as an
exercise of the first dimension of power (Lukes,
2005) has been a hallmark of student activism
since the 1960s (C. Muñoz, 1989; Rojas, 2006;
Williamson, 2003), but not all who engage in
civil disobedience incur the same level of risk.
For example, U.S. citizens who conduct civil
disobedience for undocumented students to re-
ceive in-state tuition may receive a financial
penalty or probation for their actions, but un-
documented students engaged in similar behav-
ior could be deported and separated from their
families (S. A. Muñoz, 2015). Even DREAMers
who disclose their undocumented status can
face deportation (S. A. Muñoz, 2015), which is
a more serious consequence than documented
allies face by being part of this larger move-
ment. Sensitivity to risk is critical in assessing
who should be involved in separate components
of the larger movement. If there is no risk is
involved, however, there is no activism and it
frequently becomes a manifestation of slacktiv-
ism (Gladwell, 2010; Morozov, 2009).
Premise 6: Student Activism Must Be
Guided by a Utopian Vision or a Vision of
What Social Progress Looks Like
Student activism for the sake of activism
becomes a form of public narcissism under the
guise of promoting social justice (Urrieta,
2009). To combat this, localized actions have to
be contextualized within visions of social prog-
ress and possibilities of a nonoppressive future.
Thus, activism relies on the creative imagina-
tion of activists; the imagination to envision a
future that does not currently exist and is fre-
quently not even discussed due the power of
hegemonic structuring (Lukes, 2005). As Freire
(2004) argued:
If, in reality, I am not in the world simply to adapt to
it, but rather to transform it, and it is not possible to
change the world without a certain dream or vision for
it, I must make use of every possibility there is not only
to speak about my utopia, but also to engage in prac-
tices consistent with it. (p. 7)
Freire did caution that this vision of futures
possible is irrelevant if it is not linked to col-
lective action as an exercise of collective power
(Lukes, 2005). However, in order to get to a
point of action, student activism relies on this
vision as a starting point for action.
Solórzano and Delgado Bernal (2001) made a
similar argument when they examined different
forms of student educational resistance. They
identified four, and not all are equally effective
at promoting equity based upon the intersection
of (a) critiques of oppression and (b) being
motivated by social justice. If, a student has no
critique of oppression and is not motivated by
social justice, Solórzano and Delgado Bernal
(2001) argued they are engaging in reactionary
behavior. If a student critiques social oppression
and is motivated by social justice, the authors
argue this represents transformative resistance
and can actually promote social change.
Within these formulations, the critique of op-
pression is important, but counterproductive if
not complimented by a vision of social justice.
They further argued that students who critique
oppression but have no way to channel it fre-
quently do self-harm (e.g., drop out of school).
The distinction is critically important, but
also highlights a limitation of this article. There
is some student activism that is at the service of
oppression instead of being a challenge to it.
For example, affirmative action bake sales
could be considered a form of activism, but they
exist at the service of systemic racism by both
denying the existence of minority student op-
pression but also framing White students as the
“true” victims of racism (Park, 2013). There-
fore, we are not dismissive of this type of stu-
dent activism, and instead we want to be ex-
plicit that this type of theorizing is beyond the
Freedom Summer refers to the approximately 700
largely White volunteers who, in 1964, volunteered to travel
through the South to register Black voters (McAdam, 1986).
They also explored self-defeating resistance and con-
formist resistance, but a description of these additional
forms is beyond the scope of this article. We explored
reactionary behavior as an example to juxtapose against
transformative resistance.
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
scope of the current article. Instead, we under-
stand social progress in the Freirian (2000)
sense where oppression is the antithesis of hu-
manity, and therefore, antioppressive collective
praxis allows all to become more fully human.
While a central component of Freirian peda-
gogy is a strong criticism of oppression, critique
without a vision of social progress can foster
nihilism (West, 2005). To combat nihilism hope
is necessary (Freire, 2004).
Premise 7: Hope Is Foundational for
Student Activism
Freire (2008) referred to hope as “an onto-
logical need” (p. 2), but too often hope is con-
fused with optimism. West (2005) offered an
important distinction:
This hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism
adopts the role of the spectator who surveys the evi-
dence in order to infer that things are going to get
better. Yet we know that the evidence does not look
good. . . . Hope enacts the stance of the participant who
actively struggles against the evidence in order to
change the deadly tides of wealth inequality, group
xenophobia, and personal despair.
Within this formulation, hope is a foundation
for creating the vision of social progress (Prem-
ise 6), and therefore, it is also a core component
of student activism. However, the relationship
between hope and slacktivism is not as clear
because it is not simply the polar opposite of
activism. For example, a person could be hope-
ful, take action, have no connection to a larger
collective (Premise 1), and might be engaging
in slacktivism. Thus, the presence of hope does
not necessarily mean the presence of activism,
but in the absence of hope there is no activism.
Specific to educational space, Duncan-
Andrade (2009) agreed that hope is founda-
tional to addressing inequality, but he did not
find all manifestations of hope equally effective.
He argued that hokey hope, mythical hope, and
hope deferred all represent “false hope” in that
they do nothing actually support the progressive
educational social change. For example, he de-
fined hokey hope as at the belief that hard work
allows minortized youth to overcome oppres-
sive circumstances (p. 182). He then described
mythical hope as believing that social progress
will naturally occur over time with no critique
of the social structures that perpetuate inequal-
ity. Finally, he defined hope deferred as those
who are aware of social oppression, but are
overwhelmed by the odds stacked against them
and they do not act (p. 184). Instead, Duncan-
Andrade (2009) argued that only critical hope
effectively addresses inequality.
Critical hope is a multifaceted approach to
educational practice in that it involves (a) ad-
dressing the material conditions of the urban
youth; (b) critical self-examination that engages
youth pain in a method of illuminating shared
experience and fostering a sense of shared
struggle; and (c) breaking down barriers be-
tween advantaged and disadvantaged communi-
ties as a means of fostering radical healing (p.
187). Freire (2004) offered a similar sentiment
by claiming, “After all, without hope there is
little we can do” (p. 9). Plainly, hope becomes
an essential element needed to undergird social
activism; however, both Freire and Duncan-
Andrade acknowledged that hope by itself is
insufficient. Rather, hope is a necessary attri-
bute that fuels the struggle whether manifest in
person or online. Essentially, hope is the onto-
logical need of student activism (Freire, 2008).
Premise 8: Even Though Student Activism
Seeks to Change the Political Landscape, It
Is Not the Same as Political Governance
(or Campaigning)
During the 2016 U.S. Presidential primary
campaigns, there was considerable misunder-
standing about why Black Lives Matters (BLM)
interrupted self-described socialist Bernie Sand-
ers’s speech. Many commentators viewed the
BLM interruptions as alienating potential allies,
and several expressed disdain for their tactics
(Carson, 2015; Forgue, 2015). These criticisms,
however, were predicated on confusing social
activism for political campaigning. Political
campaigns require candidates to secure the
highest percentage of votes to win office, and
they frequently become popularity contests. We
do acknowledge, however, that they are not
purely popularity contests as evidenced by the
45th president being elected despite losing the
popular vote by approximately 3 million votes
(Krieg, 2016).
By contrast, the function of activism is to
foster social change, frequently through creat-
ing social tension, and popularity is not the
primary concern. For example, in 1966 Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a 72% negative
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
rating according to a Gallup poll (Appleton,
1995). Contemporarily, there is almost univer-
sal approval of Dr. King’s life work, and Apple-
ton (1995) argued, “The overwhelming ap-
proval which Dr. King is remembered today
stands in ironic contrast to the way he was
perceived by White Americans while he was
alive” (p. 11). Some reasons for his unpopular-
ity included Dr. King’s scathing critique of
U.S.-based imperial violence in Vietnam and
his use of direct action as a form of agitation
(Branch, 2013).
Agitation is a key component to student ac-
tivism, but this term frequently has a negative
connotation. W. E. B. DuBois, however, offered
a different interpretation:
They say: “Do not agitate—do not make a noise;
work.” They add, “Agitation is destructive or at best
negative—what is wanted is positive constructive
work.” Such honest critics mistake the function of
agitation. A toothache is agitation. Is a toothache a
good thing? No. Is it therefore useless? No. It is su-
premely useful, for it tells the body of decay, dyspepsia
and death. Without it the body would suffer unknow-
ingly. It would think: All is well, when lo! danger
lurks. The same is true of the Social Body. Agitation is
a necessary evil to tell of the ills of the Suffering.
Without it many a nation has been lulled to false
security and preened itself with virtues it did not pos-
sess. (DuBois, 1971, p. 4)
Within this formulation, agitation functions as a
social conscience that awakens the masses to
the suffering they have ignored. This is not a
pleasant process because, as the cliché goes,
ignorance is bliss, and the predictable response,
to use another cliché, is to shoot the messenger.
Social media, however, offer new avenues for
collectives to foster this type of agitation via
cyberspace, and effective agitation provokes a
response and is therefore an exercise of power
(Lukes, 2005). One need only examine the im-
pacts of “Black Twitter” to understand this po-
tential (Clark, 2014). While there is the possi-
bility to create agitation via social media,
slacktivism is largely defined as being politi-
cally ineffective which also means it is defined
as being unable to cause the social disruption
activism seeks to create (Christensen, 2011).
Fundamentally, the agitation is both a necessary
and unpleasant component of student activism,
but this is also part of the reason activists are
frequently unpopular (Bashir, Lockwood, Chas-
teen, Nadolny, & Noyes, 2013).
Premise 9: Very Few People Actually
Engage in Student Activism
One of the biggest points of contention in the
activism/slacktivism debate surrounds a mis-
identification of activism within a larger, inten-
tional, collective effort. For example, people
who “like” a cause on Facebook, are frequently
accused of engaging in slacktivism (Gladwell,
2010; Morozov, 2009). While the lines between
activism and slacktivism are blurry where one
can frequently lead to the other (Y.-H. Lee &
Hsieh, 2013), specific instances can be identi-
fied as activism or slacktivism. Within this con-
text, we offer a slightly different interpretation
of the dynamics that Gladwell (2010) and Mo-
rozov (2009) critique.
We begin with the premise that only a small
proportion of those involved in movement-
based politics can be considered activists. For
example, organizers of the 1968 grape boycott
went to major cities to convince consumers to
stop purchasing table grapes from California
and support farmworker union organizing (Da-
vis, 2008). College students were also recruited
to push their campuses to participate in the
boycott (Weiland, Guzman, & O’Meara, 2013).
The activists convinced enough consumers to
boycott grapes that growers were compelled to
negotiate (Chavez, 1976; Davis, 2008). While it
took thousands of people to effectively make
this demand on the growers, not everybody who
participated should be considered an activist.
Those who only boycotted grapes were part of the
activist strategy, but they were not necessarily
engaging in activism. Their level of risk was min-
imal (Premise 5), they did not have to be hopeful
(Premise 7), and they did not have to be guided by
utopian visions (Premise 6) to participate.
This is analogous to the issue of slacktivism
and online organizing. The biggest critics of
slacktivism argue that people who like a Face-
book page or simply donate $1 are limiting their
activist potential (Gladwell, 2010; Morozov,
2009). The problem with this formulation is that
the critiques are being lodged against people
who should not be considered activists in the
first place. They are part of the activist strategy
of cultivating and exercising power (Premise 2),
but their actions should not be considered ac-
tivism. It is akin to criticizing those who
stopped buying grapes in 1968 because they did
not fully realize their potential for promoting
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
social change. They were largely uninterested in
being labor activists, but they were willing to
support activist strategies. This dynamic only
becomes problematic when people click a page,
boycott a product, or make a nominal donation,
and convince themselves that they are activists.
In the absence of this dynamic, critiques of
slacktivism rest on confusing those who are
engaging in activism with those participating in
strategies of activism. Social responsibility is
not the same as social activism, and many slack-
tivism critics confounded the two.
Premise 10: Social Media Are More
(Although not Entirely) Democratic Spaces
for Organic Intellectuals
Despite the changing terrain of contemporary
activism and the incorporation of social media,
organic intellectualism continues to play an im-
portant role in agitating for social progress
(Cammarota & Romero, 2014). Gramsci (1971)
argued that intellectuals are central in both the
maintenance and disruption of inequality. He
famously pronounced, “All men are intellectu-
als, one could therefore say: but not all men
have in society the function of intellectuals” (p.
115). Gramsci further argued the solution to
transforming the hegemony of the bourgeoisie
was creating the hegemony of the proletariat.
To create the alternative hegemony, Gramsci’s
theorized that social progress required a new
form of intellectual. He critiqued the traditional
intellectual who, with a disinterested eye, en-
gaged in scholarly activities without concern for
their relevance. Instead, Gramsci (1971) argued,
The mode of being of the new intellectual can no
longer consist of eloquence, which is an exterior and
momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in
active participation in practical life, as constructor,
organizer, ‘permanent persuader’ and not just simple
orator. (p. 116)
To be the permanent persuader, however, the
organic intellectual needs a platform. While
social media are not entirely democratized
spaces as some proponents argue (Dahlberg &
Siapera, 2007), there are more opportunities
on the Internet than from mainstream media
outlets (Biddix, 2010).
According to Herman and Chomsky (1988),
the conservative/liberal media bias debate is
irrelevant. Instead, the corporate-controlled me-
dia, “are effective and powerful ideological in-
stitutions that carry out a system-supportive
propaganda function by reliance on market
forces, internalized assumptions, and self-
censorship, and without overt coercion” (p.
306). Due to the internal logic of capitalist
production, the mass media reflected the biases
of its corporate sponsors, which returns to the
concept of hegemony (Gramsci, 1971; Lukes,
2005). If the masses have their options limited
but they are concurrently unaware that these
limitations are being imposed upon them, they
pacify themselves. Therefore, there is no need
to rely on coercion because this corporate bias
excludes the voices of social equity from mass
media outlets. Thus, social media have helped
to partially circumvent this dynamic, allowing
more opportunities for the voices of budding
student organic intellectuals to reach the masses
(Kahn & Kellner, 2004).
The recent rise in contemporary student
activism (Pasque & Vargas, 2014) in a digital
age has opened new possibilities for promot-
ing social justice on campus and beyond (Bid-
dix, 2010). Campus activism is ripe with po-
tential for creating democratic space and
engagement (Biddix, 2010; Pasque & Vargas,
2014), is an untapped arena for student devel-
opment (Kezar, 2010), while sometimes of-
fering the possibility of activists and institu-
tional actors working together to promote
progressive social change (Rhoads, Saénz, &
Carducci, 2005; Weiland, Guzman, &
O’Meara, 2013). This is particularly impor-
tant for diversity efforts as student activism
has played, and continues to play, a central
role in agitating to this end (Broadhurst,
2014; Gonzales, 2008; P. Lee, 2011; Rhoads,
1998a; Rhoads, 1998b; Rhoads, Saenz, &
Carducci, 2005; Rojas, 2006; Rogers, 2012;
Slaughter, 1997; Williamson, 2003). Digital
engagement is increasingly becoming part of
the campus activist toolbox (Biddix, 2010;
Tatarchevskiy, 2011); however, not all forms
of online participation are equally effective at
unlocking the potential of student activism
and some nuance is needed in these discus-
The pronouncements that social media are
simply arenas for people to delude themselves
into thinking they are being part of progres-
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
sive social change (e.g., Gladwell, 2010; Mo-
rozov, 2009) are largely overblown. These
authors specifically critique the utopian prom-
ises of the Internet that have not materialized,
but they also tend to conflate social movement
participation with social activism. Therefore,
it is presumptuous to assume that social me-
dia are inherently ineffective platforms for
challenging and transforming oppressive so-
cial conditions. Instead, they are tools that
have the potential to bring together a collec-
tive that can be used to apply pressure when
necessary (Kahn & Kellner, 2004; Karpf,
2010, 2012). The difficulty of contemporary
student activism, however, is that it almost
requires an online presence, but an online
presence without a connection to actual grass-
roots organizing slips into slacktivism (Chris-
tensen, 2011). This is a blurry line because
slacktivism can sometimes lead to subsequent
activism (Jones, 2015; Y.-H. Lee & Hsieh,
2013; Šteˇka & Mazák, 2014).
With this context in mind, we did not offer
the list of activism/slacktivism premises as 10
essential components, but rather a guideline
to support student activists self-reflect given
frequent uncertainty. We argue that this is
critically important because too often student
activism focuses on highlighting social
wrongs and too little on critical self-
examination (Urrieta, 2009). This was one
core component of Freire’s (2000) conscien-
tização, and one that is also difficult to apply.
Additionally, these premises can help guide
faculty, staff, and administrators, as they engage
with contemporary student activists. Kezar
(2010) argued that it is substantially more ef-
fective for university employees to work with
student activists instead of against them from
both institutional progress and developmental
standpoints. In particular, it is critically impor-
tant for campus administrators, faculty, and
staff, to understand student activism in its own
terms. For example, campus administrators fre-
quently misunderstand the point of student ac-
tivism and confuse it for governance (see Prem-
ise 8). This is, in part, because they are
responsible for running institutions of higher
education. Therefore, they frequently offer the
benevolently patronizing advice, “Aren’t you
alienating your allies?” forgetting that student
activism is about creating tension and not pop-
In addition, understanding the complexities
and commitments required to engage in student
activism challenges university employees to re-
spect the commitment of activists even if they
disagree with the activists’ stated goals. That is,
activism requires a coordinated collective
(Premise 1), hope despite massive structural
barriers (Premise 7), strategic leveraging of
power despite students having little (Premise 2),
while students putting themselves at risk (Prem-
ise 5). This is why Weiland, Guzman, and
O’Meara (2013) argued,
Through protest, students not only learn about such
issues but also discern ways to exert their will on
outcomes. They move from simply knowing about
injustice to doing something about it. Educators have a
role in helping students through this progression. (p. 8)
That is, many universities shy away from stu-
dent activists because campus unrest can be
unsettling. Rather, Weiland et al. (2013) chal-
lenged this tendency and argued that it is actu-
ally a privilege to work with student activists. A
brief word of caution is warranted here. It
would be inappropriate for a faculty member
when dialoguing with campus activists to offer
one of the premises to argue, “See, you’re not
even engaging in activism.” Rather, these are
meant as points of engagement, dialogue, and
Ultimately, we have to grapple with the ten-
sion that true social progress will not occur on
social media alone. As Gil Scott-Heron (1970)
The revolution will not be televised, will not be tele-
Will not be televised, will not be televised
The revolution will be no rerun brothers
The revolution will be live
There is no substitute for in-person social ac-
tivism to create the “tensions” described by Dr.
King (1964); however, this does not preclude
online space from being able to generate new
tensions (Karpf, 2010, 2012). If social justice is
the overall goal, then online activity can and
needs to be one component of this strategy. Yes,
Scott-Heron was correct that the revolution will
be live, but online engagement can be con-
ducted in real time. Struggling with the tension
between in-person and online engagement de-
fines this generation of student activists, as both
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
are integral components of realizing the possi-
bility of more inclusive colleges and universi-
ties (Barnhardt, 2014; Biddix, 2010).
Alinsky, S. D. (1989). Rules for radicals: A prag-
matic primer for realistic radicals. New York,
NY: Vintage.
Anyon, J. (2014). Radical possibilities: Public pol-
icy, urban education, and a new social movement
(2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Appleton, S. (1995, February/March). Martin Luther
King in life . . . and memory. The Public Perspec-
tive, 11–13, 47–48.
Barnhardt, C. L. (2014). Campus-based organizing:
Tactical repertoires of contemporary student
movements. New Directions for Higher Education,
2014, 43–58.
Bashir, N. Y., Lockwood, P., Chasteen, A. L., Na-
dolny, D., & Noyes, I. (2013). The ironic impact of
activists: Negative stereotypes reduce social
change influence. European Journal of Social Psy-
chology, 43, 614626.
Biddix, J. P. (2010). Technology uses in campus
activism from 2000 to 2008: Implications for civic
learning. Journal of College Student Development,
51, 679693.
Biondi, M. (2012). The black revolution on campus.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Branch, T. (2013). The King years: Historic moments
in the Civil Rights Movement. New York, NY:
Simon & Schuster.
Breuer, A., & Farooq, B. (2012, November 23). On-
line political participation: Slacktivism or effi-
ciency increased activism? Evidence from the Bra-
zilian Ficha Limpa campaign. Retrieved from http://!2179035
Broadhurst, C. J. (2014). Campus activism in the 21st
century: A historical framing. New Directions for
Higher Education, 2014, 3–15.
Cabrera, N. L. (2012). Working through Whiteness:
White male college students challenging racism.
Review of Higher Education, 35, 375–401. http://
Cammarota, J., & Romero, A. F. (Eds.). (2014). Raza
studies: The public option for educational revolu-
tion. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Carson, B. (2015, September 3). #BlackLivesMatter mis-
fire. USA Today.Retrievedfromhttp://www.usatoday
Chavez, C. (1976). The California farm workers’
struggle. Black Scholar, 7, 16–19. http://dx.doi
Christensen, H. S. (2011). Political activities on the
internet: Slacktivism or political participation by
another means? First Monday, 16, 1–10. http://dx
Clark, M. D. (2014). To tweet our own cause: A
mixed-methods study of the online phenomenon
“Black Twitter”. Unpublished doctoral disserta-
tion. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Chapel Hill, NC.
Cohen, R., & Snyder, D. J. (Eds.). (2013). Rebellion
in black and white: Southern student activism in
the 1960s. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univer-
sity Press.
Cornelissen, G., Karelaia, N., & Soyer, E. (2013).
Clicktivism or slacktivism? Impression manage-
ment and moral licensing. Paper presented at La
Londe Conference on Marketing Communications
and Consumer Behavior, La Londe les Maures,
Dahlberg, L., & Siapera, E. (Eds.). (2007). Radical
democracy and the internet: Interrogating theory
and practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Mac-
Davis, B. J. (2008). The national grape boycott: A
victory for farmworkers. Minneapolis, MN: Com-
pass Point Books.
DuBois, W. E. B. (1971). The seventh son: The
thought and writings of W. E. B. DuBois (Vol. 2; J.
Lester, Ed.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Duncan-Andrade, J. M. R. (2009). Note to educators:
Hope required when growing roses from concrete.
Harvard Educational Review, 79, 181–194. http://
Forgue, A. (2015, August 9). Black Lives Matter
protesters who interrupted Bernie Sanders hurt
their movement. Daily Kos. Retrieved from http://
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th
Anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Herder and
Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of indignation. Boulder,
CO: Paradigm.
Freire, P. (2008). Pedagogy of hope. New York, NY:
Gaston-Gayles, J. L., Wolf-Wendel, L. E., Tuttle,
K. N., Twombly, S. B., & Ward, K. (2005). From
disciplinarian to change agent: How the Civil
Rights era changed he roles of student affairs pro-
fessionals. NASPA Journal, 42, 263–282. http://dx
Gitlin, T. (2009). Letters to a young activist. New
York, NY: Basic Books.
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Gladwell, M. (2010, October 4). Small change: Why
the revolution will not be tweeted. The New York-
er. Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://www
Gonzales, R. G. (2008). Left out but not shut down:
Political activism and the undocumented student
movement. Northwestern Journal of Law and So-
cial Policy, 3, 219–239.
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison note-
books of Antonio Gramsci (Q. Hoare & G. N.
Smith, Trans. & Eds.). New York, NY: Interna-
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufactur-
ing consent: The political economy of the mass
media. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
Hu, C.-W. (2014). Health slacktivism on social me-
dia: Predictors and effects. In G. Meiselwitz (Ed.),
Social computing and social media (pp. 354–364).
Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer. Retrieved
Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 192–193 (1964).
Jacobsen, G. D., & Jacobsen, K. H. (2011). Health
awareness campaigns and diagnosis rates: Evi-
dence from National Breast Cancer Awareness
Month. Journal of Health Economics, 30, 55–61.
Jaquette, O., Curs, B. R., & Posselt, J. R. (in press).
Tuition rich, mission poor: Nonresident enrollment
growth and the socioeconomic and racial compo-
sition of public research universities. Journal of
Higher Education.
Jones, C. (2015). Slacktivism and the social benefits
of social video: Sharing a video to ‘help’ a cause.
First Monday. Advance online publication. http://
Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2004). New media and
internet activism: From the ‘Battle of Seattle’ to
blogging. New Media & Society, 6, 87–95. http://
Karpf, D. (2010). Online political mobilization from
the advocacy group’s perspective: Looking beyond
clicktivism. Policy & Internet, 2, 7–41. http://dx
Karpf, D. (2012). The MoveOn effect: The unex-
pected transformation of American political advo-
cacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kezar, A. (2010). Faculty and staff partnering with
student activists: Unexplored terrains of interac-
tion and development. Journal of College Student
Development, 51, 451–480.
Khan, U. (2009, July 7). Twitter should win Nobel
Peace Prize, says former US security adviser. The
Telegraph. Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://
King, M. L., Jr. (1964). Why we can’t wait. New
York, NY: Signet.
Krieg, G. (2016, December 22). It’s official: Clinton
swamps Trump in popular vote. CNN Politics.
Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.cnn
Kristofferson, K., White, K., & Peloza, J. (2013). The
nature of slacktivism: How the social observability
of an initial act of token support affects subsequent
prosocial action. Journal of Consumer Research,
40, 1149–1166.
Lee, P. (2011). The Griswold 9 and student activism
for faculty diversity at Harvard Law School in the
early 1990s. Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic
Justice, 27, 49–96.
Lee, Y.-H., & Hsieh, G. (2013). Does slacktivism
hurt activism? The effects of moral balancing and
consistency in online activism.InConference on
Human Factors in Computing Systems—Proceed-
ings (pp. 811–820). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Lukes, S. (2005). Power: A radical view (2nd ed.).
New York, NY: Palgrave.
Mataconis, D. (2012, September 17). One year later,
the failure of Occupy Wall Street is apparent.
Outside the Beltway. Retrieved September 9, 2015,
Matias, C. E. (2014). White skin, Black friend: A
Fanonian application to theorize racial fetish in
teacher education. Educational Philosophy and
Theory. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi
McAdam, D. (1986). Recruitment to high-risk activ-
ism: The case of Freedom Summer. American
Journal of Sociology, 92, 64–90.
McAdam, D., & Paulsen, R. (1993). Specifying the
relationship between social ties and activism.
American Journal of Sociology, 99, 640667.
McCarthy, M. A. (2012). Occupying higher educa-
tion: The revival of the student movement. New
Labor Forum, 21, 50–55.
Morozov, E. (2009). The net delusion: The dark side
of internet freedom. New York, NY: Public Af-
Multicultural, social justice educator to speak at Mi-
sericordia University. (2015, September 16). Dal-
las Post. Retrieved from
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Muñoz, C., Jr. (1989). Youth, identity, and power:
The Chicano movement. New York, NY: Verso.
Muñoz, S. A. (2015). Identity, social activism, and
the pursuit of higher education: The journey sto-
ries of undocumented and unafraid community ac-
tivists. New York, NY: Peter Lang. http://dx.doi
Obar, J. A. (2014). Adding activism to the activist’s
toolkit: Advocacy group perceptions of the bene-
fits and drawbacks of slacktivism. Social Science
Research Network. Retrieved from
Obar, J. A. (2014). Canadian advocacy 2.0: An anal-
ysis of social media adoption and perceived affor-
dances by advocacy groups looking to advance
activism in Canada. Canadian Journal of Commu-
nication, 39, 211–233.
Obar, J. A., Zube, P., & Lampe, C. (2012). Advocacy
2.0: An analysis of how advocacy groups in the
United States perceive and use social media as
tools for facilitating civic engagement and collec-
tive action. Journal of Information Policy, 2, 1–25.
Park, J. J. (2013). When diversity drops: Race, reli-
gion, and affirmative action in higher education.
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Pasque, P., & Vargas, J. G. (2014). Performances of
student activism: Sound, silence, gender, and dis/
ability. New Directions for Higher Education,
2014, 59–71.
Rhoads, R. A. (1998a). Freedom’s web: Student ac-
tivism in an age of cultural diversity. Baltimore,
MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rhoads, R. A. (1998b). Student protest and multicul-
tural reform: Making sense of campus unrest in the
1990s. Journal of Higher Education, 69, 621–646.
Rhoads, R. A., Saénz, V. B., & Carducci, R. (2005).
Higher education reform as a movement: The case
of affirmative action. Review of Higher Education,
28, 191–220.
Rogers, I. H. (2012). The Black campus movement:
Black students and the racial reconstruction of
higher education, 1965–1972. New York, NY:
Rojas, F. (2006). Social movement tactics, organiza-
tional change and the spread of African-American
studies. Social Forces, 84, 2147–2166. http://dx
Scott-Heron, G. (1970). The revolution will not be
televised. On Small Talk at 125th & Lennox [Au-
dio CD]. New York, NY: Flying Dutchman.
Segerberg, A., & Bennett, W. L. (2011). Social media
and the organization of collective action: Using
Twitter to explore the ecologies of two climate
change protests. Communication Review, 14, 197–
Slaughter, S. (1997). Class, race, gender and the
construction of post-secondary curricula in the
United States: Social movement, professionaliza-
tion and political economic theories of curricular
change. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 29, 1–30.
Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2000). The neo-liberal
university. New Labor Forum, 6, 73–79.
Slocum, J., & Rhoads, R. A. (2009). Faculty and
student engagement in the Argentine grassroots
rebellion: Toward a democratic and emancipatory
vision of the university. Higher Education, 57,
Solórzano, D. G., & Delgado Bernal, D. (2001).
Examining transformational resistance through a
Critical Race and LatCrit theory framework: Chi-
cana and Chicano students in an urban context.
Urban Education, 36, 308–342.
Šteˇka, V., & Mazák, J. (2014). Whither slacktivism?
Political engagement and social media use in the
2013 Czech parliamentary elections. Journal of
Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Advance
online publication.
Sullivan, A. (2009, June 13). The revolution will be
Twittered. The Atlantic.Retrieved from http://
Tatarchevskiy, T. (2011). The “popular” culture of
internet activism. new media & society, 13, 297–
Urrieta, L., Jr. (2009). Working from within: Chicano
and Chicano activist educators in whitestream
schools. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Van Dyke, N. (2003). Crossing movement boundar-
ies: Factors that facilitate coalition protest by
American college students, 1930–1990. Social
Problems, 50, 226–250.
Vie, S. (2014). In defense of “slacktivism”: The
Human Rights Campaign Facebook logo as digital
activism. First Monday. Advance online publica-
Waugh, B., Abdipanah, M., Hashemi, O., Rahaman,
S. A., & Cook, D. M. (2013, December). The
influence and deception of Twitter: The authentic-
ity of the narrative and slacktivism in the Austra-
lian electoral process. Paper presented at the Aus-
tralian Information Warfare and Security
Conference, Perth, Western Australia.
Weiland, K. L., Guzman, A., & O’Meara, K. A.
(2013). Politics, identity, and college protest: Then
and now. About Campus: Enriching the Student
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Learning Experience, 18, 2–9.
West, C. (2005, January 13). Prisoners of hope. Al-
ternet. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://
Williamson, J. A. (2003). Black power on campus:
The University of Illinois, 1965–75. Chicago, IL:
University of Illinois Press.
Wollan, M., & Harris, E. (2011, November 13). Oc-
cupy Wall Street protesters shifting to college
campuses. New York Times. Retrieved January 31,
2017, from
Received September 30, 2015
Revision received February 10, 2017
Accepted February 23, 2017 !
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
... Consequently, Niehaus, Campbell, and Inkelas (2014) encouraged researchers to be transparent about design decisions. In particular, a growing chorus of scholars has called for research to account for the role of the institutional context in the emergence of civic and political outcomes such as activism (Cabrera, Matias, & Montoya, 2017;Kezar, 2010). ...
... Although Castells has applied his notion of 'spaces of autonomy' to a variety of social movements around the globe, for example, in countries such as: Iran, Iceland, Greece, Russia, and the USA, aside from the comparative study by Hammond and Soler Alemany, as of this writing the theory has not been applied in a Japanese context. Beyond Castells framework, a number of studies have been conducted on student activism in various contexts (Abrahams and Brooks 2018;Bellei, Cabalin, and Orellana 2014;Shin, Kim, and Choi 2014) and in relation to online communication networks such as SNS (Cabrera, Matias, and Montoya 2017;Theocharis 2012;Treré 2012). However, there is at present a lack of research on emergent social movements in Japan. ...
In recent decades Japanese university students have been characterised as politically apathetic and disinterested in organising for grassroots change. Despite a variety of socio-contextual factors that have contributed to this reality, a student movement known as SEALDs emerged in 2015 and successfully mobilised a substantial number of Japanese youth and shifted public discourse on social activism. By taking a case study approach, this paper analyses the movement and focuses on their unique ability to mobilise the masses through a unique utilisation of what Castells terms ‘spaces of autonomy’. The authors argue that while existing in a hybrid of cyberspace and urban space SEALDs was able to resonate with the country through social networking sites, music, fashion, and pop-culture appeal. Unlike other movements that aim to ‘radically disrupt the system’ SEALDs found success through branding and popular appeal. We suggest the case study of SEALDs offers a novel contribution to the research of student activism worldwide, and highlights the importance of social context in any attempt to understand particular manifestations of student-led activism.
... The past 10 years have witnessed numerous changes impacting the lives of many LGBTQ+ people in the United States: an increase in public visibility, legal access to marriage, public debates over restroom access, and backand-forth policy on serving in the military. Once a forum for social organizing and dating, Facebook has expanded to include mainstream visibility for issues of social justice (Cabrera, Matias, & Montoya, 2017). The Black Lives Matter movement, among its many calls to activism, has taken care to bring some of their attention to the violence surrounding and experienced by transgender women of color (Khan-Cullors, 2018). ...
Partial LGBTQ+ assimilation into mainstream culture has changed how practitioners interact with students at suburban community colleges. This chapter reviews the history of the Chicago suburbs and reflects on the authors' experiences working with LGBTQ+ students in community colleges there.
Full-text available
Increasingly, Ed.D. programs are challenged to produce graduates with the skills and expertise needed to create and foster change in the various educational environments in which they serve. Promoting, and more importantly, preparing the Ed.D. Activist is a theme that was addressed during the October 2019 convening of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) hosted by the University of South Carolina. As part of the opening convening, the U of SC faculty assisted with surveying the more than 65 CPED-informed programs in an effort to construct a potential framework to guide both new and existing programs within the consortium. The resulting framework highlights two potential profiles for the Ed.D. Activist, 12 considerations that programs should examine, four primary outcomes, and five quality indicators. The framework is representative of the data collected from more than 200 participants and provides a broad, but foundational framework for engaging more deeply in the work of promoting activism amongst Ed.D. graduates.
In this article, the author highlights how systemic forces both fuel assaults on scholar-activists in the present day and how oppressive systems can lead to scholars responding in ways that (sub)consciously amplify and spread this systemic violence. In doing so, he demonstrates how an increased understanding of these processes might inform the ways in which scholars can more effectively navigate this turbulent terrain. Building on this analysis, he advocates for a more humanizing scholarly resistance that is grounded in humanizing critique, collective envisioning of more humanized scholarly social justice circles, and humanizing the process of advocacy.
Full-text available
Full version available from the OECD here: Informed by the OECD’s well-being framework, this Working Paper considers how the experience of civic engagement and governance is being transformed and explores how governments can harness the potential of digital technologies and data to develop better outcomes for better lives. The paper proposes that in order to maximise the relationship between digital government activity and citizen well-being, government focus should be on benefits that are not only material in terms of the quality of services, but that reflect the intellectual and emotional benefits derived from a different approach to government interactions with its constituents. The paper suggests that the relationship between digital government and citizen well-being is best encapsulated by the outcomes which follow from a government that is responsive, protective and trustworthy.
Political activism is more alive than ever. After the scandal of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, online social media platforms restricted the distribution of content to privacy laws. But populism disruption in many countries fosters political discontent. Online protests and everyday claims are rising. Add to this context environmental problems and an absence of an ideological framework. All these conditions foster the use of digital activism. But this field of research has studied single cases, losing connections with societies and history. The aim of this chapter is to explain the evolution of digital activism in a long period of time. To achieve such purpose, the author analyzes 11 Mexican events that took place from 2000 to 2019 and provide a classification framework to understand how digital activism transforms over time.
The Midwest regional context complicates Asian American college student activism and social justice efforts; so understanding these dynamics can equip higher education practitioners to better support these students.
Many public research universities fail to enroll a critical mass of low-income and underrepresented minority (URM) students. Though founded with a commitment to access, public research universities face pressure to increase tuition revenue and to recruit high-achieving students. These pressures create an incentive to recruit nonresident students, who tend to pay more tuition and score higher on admissions exams, but who also tend to be richer and are less likely be Black or Latino. This paper examines whether the growing share of nonresident students was associated with a declining share of low-income and URM students at public research universities. Institution-level panel models revealed that growth in the proportion of nonresident students was associated with a decline in the proportion of low-income students. This negative relationship was stronger at prestigious universities and at universities in high-poverty states. Growth in the proportion of nonresident students was also associated with a decline in the proportion of URM students. This negative relationship was stronger at prestigious universities, universities in states with large minority populations, and universities in states with affirmative action bans. These findings yield insights about the changing character of public research universities and have implications for the campus climate experienced by low-income and URM students.
One hundred and fifty-seven representatives from 63 advocacy organizations operating in Canada were surveyed to evaluate the extent to which these groups are adopting social media, and perceive that these technologies offer affordances that contribute to the advancement of activism objectives. Quantitative results of social media adoption reveal that groups are engaging with a limited selection of social media technologies (mainly Facebook and Twitter) a few times a week or more, while avoiding other options like Google and Tumblr. Qualitative results addressing perceived social media affordances suggest that while groups are enthusiastic about social media’s potential to strengthen outreach efforts, enable engaging feedback loops, and increase the speed of communication, they remain cautious of unproven techniques that may divert resources from strategies known to work.The results of this study were also compared with those in “Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of How Advocacy Groups in the United States Perceive and Use Social Media as Tools for Facilitating Civic Engagement and Collective Action” (Obar, Zube, & Lampe, 2012). The findings suggest that Canadian groups appear to be more cautious in terms of their social media strategy than their American counterparts. More of the American groups are using Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube and are doing so more often. The American groups also engage with a wider variety of technologies, with more groups also using Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare, Diigo, Vimeo, and a variety of others. The American groups are also more optimistic about the affordances social media provide, and expressed very few concerns. By comparison, Canadian groups seemed both enthusiastic and guarded, which perhaps has contributed to a slightly slower and narrower adoption of social media technologies and strategies.
Conference Paper
The present study examined predictors, moderators, and effects of health slacktivism, which is characterized as individuals’ effortless acts in supporting health causes primarily through Internet and social media. Findings revealed that issue-involvement and self-presentation were two underlying predictors of slacktivism. Specifically, ingratiation self-presentation was found to be a significant predictor of slacktivism among slacktivists, while enhancement self-presentation predicted slacktivism among activists. Results imply that strategic impression-management types were associated with health slacktivism among particular sub-groups. It is also found that health slacktivists and activists differed by relational connection. Slacktivists tended to be people who were remotely related to the health issue advocated, while activists were people who had closer relational connection to the health issue. Health consciousness, however, was not a significant predictor of slacktivism nor a differentiating factor between slacktivists and activists. Consistent with the Transtheoretical Model, slacktivism was found to have positive effects among participants in terms of awareness, psychological wellbeing, behavioral intention and behavior adoption. Individuals’ low-threshold engagement as slacktivism also predicted their high-threshold engagement (activism), implying that getting involved in slacktivism does not substitute for offline forms of participation but may increase the possibility of offline engagement instead.
The well-known and controversial Mexican American studies (MAS) program in Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District set out to create an equitable and excellent educational experience for Latino students. Raza Studies: The Public Option for Educational Revolution offers the first comprehensive account of this progressive—indeed revolutionary—program by those who created it, implemented it, and have struggled to protect it. Inspired by Paulo Freire’s vision for critical pedagogy and Chicano activists of the 1960s, the designers of the program believed their program would encourage academic achievement and engagement by Mexican American students. With chapters by leading scholars, this volume explains how the program used “critically compassionate intellectualism” to help students become “transformative intellectuals” who successfully worked to improve their level of academic achievement, as well as create social change in their schools and communities. Despite its popularity and success inverting the achievement gap, in 2010 Arizona state legislators introduced and passed legislation with the intent of banning MAS or any similar curriculum in public schools. Raza Studies is a passionate defense of the program in the face of heated local and national attention. It recounts how one program dared to venture to a world of possibility, hope, and struggle, and offers compelling evidence of success for social justice education programs.
The Black Revolution on Campus is the definitive account of an extraordinary but forgotten chapter of the black freedom struggle. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Black students organized hundreds of protests that sparked a period of crackdown, negotiation, and reform that profoundly transformed college life. At stake was the very mission of higher education. Black students demanded that public universities serve their communities; that private universities rethink the mission of elite education; and that black colleges embrace self-determination and resist the threat of integration. Most crucially, black students demanded a role in the definition of scholarly knowledge. Martha Biondi masterfully combines impressive research with a wealth of interviews from participants to tell the story of how students turned the slogan "black power" into a social movement. Vividly demonstrating the critical linkage between the student movement and changes in university culture, Biondi illustrates how victories in establishing Black Studies ultimately produced important intellectual innovations that have had a lasting impact on academic research and university curricula over the past 40 years. This book makes a major contribution to the current debate on Ethnic Studies, access to higher education, and opportunity for all.