The Perception of Progress: Institutional Responses, Student Activism, & Campus Racism
Katherine Cho

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Los Angeles

Primary Discipline

Student activism for racial justice is not new. Students protested in the 1960s, the 1980s, and most recently in the 2010s with #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations on college campuses. Yet, the cyclical demands from decade to decade, especially those made by Student-Activists of Color regarding racism, discrimination, and bias on campus suggest something is not working. This study flips the current framing of how student activism helps advance institutional change on college campuses, and instead asks about the reverse relationship: what are the patterns, themes, tactics, and ways colleges and universities respond to student activism and campus racism? Using Institutional Response Framework, this mixed-methods comparative case study examines the relationships between students, their college campuses, and how change can occur. More specifically, this research employs document collection, student and administrator interviews, and multidimensional scaling to interrogate the power structures and external pressures behind how administrative decisions are made and how these responses affect the concerns Student-Activists of Color voice in opposition. As colleges and universities continue to contend with racism, multiple pressures, and student demands to do better (rightfully so), this study serves not as an indictment of my past self or fellow administrators, but rather as a call to action with language and tools to facilitate more productive, constructive conversations and steps to address the racism so prevalent and embedded within college campuses.
About Katherine Cho
Katherine Soojin Cho is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Higher Education and Organizational Change program at the University of California, Los Angeles's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her background as both an administrator and student activist informs her interest in scrutinizing institutional accountability. Her dissertation centers on how colleges and universities respond to student activism in opposition to the experiences of racism, marginality, discrimination, bias, and violence Students of Color face on their campuses. Concurrently, Katherine is a research analyst at the Higher Education Research Institute, examining the ways campuses support underrepresented and underserved students to successfully graduate. Prior to her doctoral studies, Katherine was a higher education administrator, managing several student development and civic leadership programs for a university in New York. She received an M.A. in Sociology & Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.A. in Public Policy Studies from Duke University.

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