College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

The Role of Adults in Facilitating Youth Critical Consciousness in Community-Based Service-Learning

Date of Award

Summer 8-20-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Carter, PhD

Second Advisor

Beth Catlett, PhD

Third Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD


Critical consciousness is defined as the way that oppressed individuals critically analyze and act to change their social conditions (Freire, 1973). Fostering critical consciousness in service-learning experiences for young people can potentially build their capacity to address the social inequalities that they face by understanding the impact of oppressive social forces in their lives and participating in activities that seek to change these injustices. Research has shown that sociopolitical support from other adults (i.e., parents, teachers, community members) through encouraging young people to engage in dialogue about social injustices may be an important type of support (Diemer et al., 2006; Diemer et al. 2009; Diemer & Li, 2011; Diemer, 2012; Godfrey & Grayman, 2014). In the context of service learning, staff from service-learning sites and course instructors are two adult sources that can foster important dialogue for critical consciousness (Diemer et al., 2011; Mitchell, 2008). These adults are in the position to create the opportunities for structural analysis of social issues and critical reflection through dialogue in their respective settings. Thus, this study focused on the roles of staff and instructor sociopolitical support in the development of students’ critical consciousness. A cross-sectional quantitative design was employed to investigate the relationships among organizational staff sociopolitical support, course instructor sociopolitical support, critical reflection, and critical action. Using Path Analyses, I examined four models of proposed relationships. The first model assessed whether both adult sociopolitical support variables predict different aspects of critical consciousness. A second and third model tested critical reflection as a mediator. The second model included critical reflection: perceived inequality as a mediator of the predictors (i.e., organizational staff sociopolitical support and course instructor sociopolitical support) and critical action. The third model included critical reflection: egalitarianism as a 2 mediator of the predictors and critical action. The fourth model tested critical action as a mediator of the predictors (i.e., organizational staff support and instructor support) and both critical reflection components. Results from path analyses revealed that instructor support was significantly associated to critical reflection: egalitarianism, but there were no other significant direct relationships between adult support and critical consciousness. This result could reflect the types of discussions or messaging that course instructors are emphasizing in the classroom. Egalitarianism perspectives may be easier to discuss with students than the complexities of injustice and equity. The role of the course instructor in the development of youth critical consciousness may to be linked to pedagogical approaches. A recent study (Seider et al., 2017) also indicated that certain pedagogical approaches might be more likely to promote reflection and/or action among students. Action may be a stronger catalyst of critical consciousness and results in the fourth model support this idea, where critical action significantly mediated the relationship between organization staff support and critical reflection: perceived inequality. Engagement in critical action may prompt students to reflect on existing inequalities or increase students’ receptivity to deeper analysis. Together, these results further support the notion that components of critical reflection may operate in different ways. For students, it may be easier to observe actions modeled by adult staff members working at community-based organizations in comparison to course instructors in a classroom setting. Staff members are more likely to start by engaging students directly in community work rather than the reflection and theoretical components. Although the study is limited by its cross-sectional data and does not tend to the nuances of oppression, power, and privilege for a diverse sample of students, the study’s findings on the 3 role of community-based adults in youth’s sociopolitical development is a contribution to the youth civic engagement and service-learning literature with a specific focus on critical consciousness.

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