Activism and College Student Mental Health: A Wellness Perspective

Activism and College Student Mental Health: A Wellness Perspective

Abby L. Bjornsen-Ramig, Daniel B. Kissinger
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7274-9.ch013
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Activism on college campuses in the United States is a long-standing phenomenon rooted in the counterculture movements of the 1960s. Today, local, regional, and national issues and sociopolitical influences remain closely aligned with activism in higher education, with contemporary issues shaping student activism efforts on campus. College student activism ranges from organized marches and protests to more widespread social media campaigns, targeting issues ranging from inclusion and diversity to sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Involvement in activism can influence the mental health and overall wellness of college students who engage in these activities. This chapter focuses on contemporary activism in higher education, specifically as related to the potential impact of activism on the mental health and wellness of college student activists. Also discussed are implications for student affairs professionals, university-based mental health professionals, and higher education administrators.
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Activism And College Student Mental Health: A Wellness Perspective

In higher education, student activism has served as a driving force for boosting inclusivity and democracy on campus (Cabrera, Matias, & Montoya, 2017). The organization of students toward a common social goal is the backbone of activism (Barnhardt. 2014), with objectives typically reflecting the current sociopolitical climate (Lantz, Fix, Davis, Harrison, Oliver, Crowell, & Mitchell, 2016). Through power in numbers, students express a collective voice to influence positive changes on a campus (Rojas, 2006).

Three primary objectives are associated with the current chapter: an overview of contemporary student activism in higher education will provide context to the complex nature of student involvement in activism, particularly as related to individual identity development and personal experiences with discrimination and oppression. Second, the relationship between involvement in activism and mental health will be discussed, with a focus on the application of an empirically-supported wellness model. Finally, suggestions will be provided to campus officials for fostering and supporting student activist efforts in higher education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Holistic: Interconnection between parts of the self (e.g., emotional, spiritual, physical, etc.).

Wellness: Holistic health and balance in all aspects of the self.

Inclusion: Opposite of exclusion; refraining from discrimination based on differences.

Identity: Self-concept related to how one views self and how one is viewed by others.

Activism: Individual or collective action to effect widespread change in social and/or political realms.

Slacktivism: Offering support to a social or political cause through primarily digital means.

Social media: Mechanisms of communication that occur digitally, and with widespread reach.

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