Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl Getz, Ed. D., Cheryl Getz, Ed. D., Christopher B. Newman, Ph.D.


activism, becoming, belonging, Ethiopia, leading, student


The expansion of higher education in the last 24 years in Ethiopia has broadened the causes, alignments, and avenue for students to engage in student organizations and contentious actions. Despite the severity of the state‘s repressive tactics, university students contentious actions have not waned. Not only do students engage in everyday micro resistance, they also use student organizations and clandestine means to challenge policies and practices. Such collective student engagements and contentious actions cannot be done without activists who mobilize and organize students in extremely complex and risky circumstances. Unfortunately, little is known about such activists.

The purpose of the research was to study these activists by retrospectively examining former students who were involved in contentious actions in Ethiopian universities. The study specifically addressed three interrelated research questions, focusing on student activists’ (a) socio-biographical factors and life experiences that contribute to the formation of activist consciousness; (b) domains of social and organizational belonging; and (c) leadership roles in student mobilizations and contentious actions.

The research participants were nine former students who took part in student organization and ethnic identity based activism in three Ethiopian universities during the period of 1997-2007. They each participated in a Skype one-on-one interview that lasted 90 minutes. Additional data were obtained through document analysis to understand the socio-political context of their activism.

The findings of this study reveal how youth aspiration for student activism gradually develops, manifests itself, and is eventually subjected to repressive counter! ! ! ! actions. Two factors, social origin and life experiences, contribute to activist consciousness that pre-disposes students to high sensitivity to practices and propensity to action taking. The findings also include four types of activist belonging, defining the type and magnitude of activist work and leading roles. Although mobilizing prominently features in their work, activists played vanguard roles by committing their time and efforts to a common cause. Although the focus on former activists has limitations to understand current student activism in Ethiopian universities, the study has implications for activist research in problematic regions, civic engagement in higher education, and activist and leadership development programs.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies