“It Shaped Who I Am”: Reframing Identities for Justice Through Student Activism

  • Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton California State University, Fullerton
  • Corina Benavides López California State University, Dominguez Hills
  • José M. Aguilar-Hernández California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Keywords: Chicanx/Latinx student activism, identity development, cultural centers, higher education


On May 6, 1993, students of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona [CPP]) protested what they believed was a lack of diversity on campus. Over 25 years later, this qualitative study explores the identity development of undergraduate students who led that movement, which resulted in the founding of five cultural centers at CPP in 1995. In doing so, this study adds to the growing literature on activism and Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x identity development. Today, student-led movements shine light on continued inequities in higher education. The reframing identities for justice (RIJ) identity development model serves as a lens to explore how six students’ historical narratives offer a unique glimpse into the impact of activism on their identity development. We found participants’ identity development was influenced by (a) experiencing meaningful interactions along their developmental journeys, (b) making sense of oppression and privilege, (c) discovering praxis between previous learning and activism at CPP, and (d) building coalitions and kinship. Findings show that students act for social justice before they explore multiple identities. We conclude that activism impacts student identity development and offer recommendations for how to enhance this development to student activists, faculty, and administrators.