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"Okay, We're Gonna Need to Press a Little Harder": Students' Decision-Making Process when Participating in a Sit-in Protest

Jeff Nilsen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Sit-in protests are occurring more frequently on college campuses and yet are viewed with greater disdain by university administration than more conventional protest actions. This grounded theory research study aims to explain the decision-making process of student activists who participate in a sit-in of a university space. Additionally, the purpose of this study is to identify the factors, both individually and collectively, that go into these decisions. The data for this project was collected through interviews of 12 participants across four higher education institutions who participated in sit-in protests between 2019-2022. Participants experienced negative emotions to a university action and followed two overlapping and intertwined pathways: the individual decision and the collective movement. Participants used individual accelerators such as sense of responsibility, relationships with others, and a perceived protection from potential consequences to move along their non-linear pathway to protest. The collective movement used moral anger and urgency to move at different speeds to reach the decision to use a sit-in protest as a protest action. Participants, both individually and collectively, felt the sit-in was their last resort to influence administrators and change the university action. These findings indicate a need for more proactive dialogue strategies between university administration and student activists, as well as the need of increased training for university staff on activism best practices before situations escalate.

Subject Area

Higher education|Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Nilsen, Jeff, ""Okay, We're Gonna Need to Press a Little Harder": Students' Decision-Making Process when Participating in a Sit-in Protest" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30484720.