Mechanisms for and Barriers to Activism and its Effects on Activists: A Case Study of Campus Sexual Violence Activism



Koehn, Pallie

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In recent years, many survivors of campus sexual violence have come forward, and student activists have collaborated to expose campus sexual violence, yet few violence prevention researchers have focused on activists’ and activist-survivors’ challenges and perceptions of their activism work (Krause et al., 2017). This master’s thesis uses in-person interviews with 15 activists and nonactivists to explore motivators and mechanisms for, barriers to, and impacts of student activism at a large Mid-Atlantic university recently experiencing a surge in sexual violence activism. Study research questions and predictions are driven by the propositions of new social movement theory, the concept of intersectionality, and Maruna’s (2001) redemption scripts. Activists involved in this study are motivated by the University’s mismanagement of sexual violence complaints and its controversial decision to hire a new faculty member previously accused of sexual assault. Successful activism organizations value careful planning and voluntariness. Barriers to activism include students’ stress and burnout, their misconceptions about activism, and University leadership’s strong and subtle opposition to student activism. Impacts of activism at the individual level include friendships resulting from engaging in activism, redemption, and empowerment. Impacts of activism at the University and community levels include Title IX-related policy and practice reform and more on-campus resources for those impacted by sex discrimination and sexual violence. These impacts suggest a more positive college experience for students due to continued student activism. Colleges and universities should follow student activists’ lead to advance Title IX-related policy and practice. Future studies should apply this study’s theoretical framework to examine the perceptions of student activists and activist-survivors, particularly activists who are non-White, male, LGBTQ, and international students.



Sexual violence, Student activism, Student activist, Sex discrimination, Title IX, Victimization