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Climate change advocacy: exploring links between student empowerment and civic engagement

Alicia B. Wodika (Department of Health Sciences, Illinois State University , Normal, Illinois, USA)
Wendi K. Middleton (Department of Health Professions, Gregg Wadley College of Science and Health Professions, Northeastern State University , Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 24 August 2020

Issue publication date: 5 September 2020




This study identified the attitudes and behaviors of college students regarding their advocacy for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Specifically, perceptions of climate change were assessed and advocacy activities were identified for climate change and/or other topics.


Using convenience sampling, students (n = 440) from three universities in the Midwest, the USA, completed surveys assessing their level of agreement with activities related to civic engagement, climate change and policy. Semantic differential scales focused on “learning about climate change,” “advocating for climate change mitigation” and “advocating for climate change adaptation.” Three open-ended questions were used to identify student experiences with civic engagement and/or service-learning, as well as topics in which they advocate and how they advocate.


Regarding advocacy in general, over 50% of the sample did not advocate for any topic, with 24.5% of students stating they advocated for the environment/climate change. Students who identified as female, democratic and 1st or 2nd year in school were more likely to be engaged with environmental advocacy. Regarding civic engagement, seniors were more actively engaged with their communities and also more likely to vote in local, state and national elections.

Research limitations/implications

Time of data collection was a potential limitation with schools conducting data collection at different time periods. Students who identified more progressive politically were also more likely to participate in the study.


While research exists regarding student civic engagement levels, this research project identified ways in which students engaged in advocacy, identifying potential links with civic engagement and enhanced participation in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.



The researchers from this study acknowledge Kayla Ryals-Hudson, Kristen Brewer and Ashley Moss for their work in collecting data and assisting with data coding. Dr Justin Schoof was also important as a mentor for the project to assist with research questions and general project focus.


Wodika, A.B. and Middleton, W.K. (2020), "Climate change advocacy: exploring links between student empowerment and civic engagement", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 1209-1231.



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