Through the eyes of the beholder: University student leaders' understanding of citizenship.

Paper published in Journal of Citizenship, Teaching and Learning Vol 10 (2) 2015.

Paper Details

  • PUBLISHED:2015
  • JOURNAL:Journal of Citizenship, Teaching and Learning 10 (2) 2015

This article explores the concept of citizenship based on the experience of student leaders from a mid-sized university in western Canada. Five student leaders participated in semi-structured individual interviews to explore their experience with, and understanding of citizenship. Interviews concentrated on personal view points and definitions of citizenship, explored whether or not there are good and great citizens, and the role universities play in fostering strong citizenship amongst its student body. The measurement of citizenship and opportunities to foster citizenship were also explored. Qualitative content analysis revealed five themes, including political participation, social citizenship/solidarity, engagement, transformative action and autonomy. Citizenship, while highly valued by this population, also appears to be impossible to measure. If post-secondary institutions are aiming to create better citizens, more work needs to be done to create a common understanding of the intended outcome. Based on these findings, a new potential model of citizenship is proposed, in line with the work of Dalton and others who emphasize a shift towards personal involvement over traditional political engagement. Further, these results suggest that students could benefit from understanding themselves as political agents, capable of inculcating change within the university context and beyond.