This study described the leadership experiences of college students of color and sought to understand how they perceived, experienced, and made meaning of, the influence and impact of race in their lives. A secondary purpose was to discover if the results were consistent with the leadership identity development model (Komives, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen (2005). Although there is a growing body of knowledge of student leadership development and leadership identity development, there is a dearth of scholarship on leadership development and the influence of race.
Using a phenomenological research approach to interviewing, data treatment and analyses were used to preserve students' voices. Four student leaders of color from a mid-sized predominately White public university located in the northwest were interviewed. Participants were two African American males, one Latino male, and one Asian/Pacific Islander female.
Findings show students of color gained leadership skills and experience by their involvement in identity-based campus clubs where they learned, practiced and developed leadership skills and formulated leadership identities. Further, students expanded his/her leadership roles to broader organizations and began to develop leadership in others. There was a relationship between racial identity and leadership identity development and students perceived race less as an influence on their leadership development but more of an impact and a reaction to them as student leaders of color. They expressed a need to assimilate with the majority group to be seen as viable and credible leaders, and are motivated to be change agents to remedy social injustices.
Descriptions of their leadership identity development were consistent with the developmental stages in the leadership identity development model (Komives et al., 2005). Students reported being in stage one (i.e., leadership awareness) and stage two (i.e., leader identified) prior to college enrollment and were in the advanced stages (i.e., leader identified; leadership differentiated; generative; integration/synthesis) while in college.
In addition, this dissertation suggests that student leaders of color may be over-involved in extra-curricular activities, and leadership development comes at a high cost. These students serve as role models among peers, represent the university in recruiting and retention efforts, and struggle to find balance in their lives.