Most college protesters are well adjusted, socially active students
Anaheim, Calif. -- Rather than being misfits, college protesters are more likely to be socially active on campus and enjoy a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, a Penn State researcher says.
These same peer networks seem to have a more profound influence on student activism than political ideology or any deep dissatisfaction with the prevailing government, says Dr. Byeong Chul (Ben) Park, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State's DuBois Campus.
"We found a strong relationship between levels of extracurricular involvement and student activism," he told attendees today (Aug. 19) of the annual conference of the American Sociological Association. "It seems that those students who had adjusted well to college life through engagement in campus activities were more likely to participate in protest movements than those who had not."
This profile of student activists is in contrast to a perception held by much of the public that protesters are loners and rebels alienated from the mainstream of college students, according to Park.
Park's findings were presented in the paper, "When Children Protest on the Street: Generation Units and Youth Activism." His data are taken from 1,111 self-administered questionnaires collected at 10 Korean universities in 1993 by the East-West Cultural Study Center at Hannam University, Taejon, Korea. "Each new generation brings to college its own frame of reference, which promotes common political attitudes and beliefs different from those of preceding generations. This collective mindset appears to be a factor in motivating student political activism," says Park. "The fact that each new cohort of student has its own interpretation of socio-political issues often leads to dissatisfaction with the government or administration in power."
However, those students who protest are those who are active in the institutional life of the college and well established in the student community. A wide communication network among student peers help to mold their political leanings and create a group solidarity that allows them to make their voices heard, he adds. Even students with no particular ideological bent or sense of disgruntlement with the government can become politicized by active involvement in on-campus rallies and demonstrations. "This seems to indicate that students join protest movements largely because of peer group expectations rather than political learning at home," Park notes.