Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


Reader 1

Jon Shields

Reader 2

Aseema Sinha

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2017 Kaitlyn A Kelleher


Beginning in October 2015, student protests erupted at many U.S. colleges and universities. This wave of demonstrations prompted an ongoing national debate over the following question: what caused this activism? Leveraging existing theoretical explanations, this paper attempts to answer this question through an empirical study of the 73 most prominent college protests from October 2015 to April 2016. I use an original data set with information collected from U.S. News and World Report to determine what factors at these 73 schools were most predictive of the protests.

My findings strongly suggest that the probability of a protest increases at larger, more selective institutions. I also find evidence against the dominant argument that the marginalization of minority students exclusively caused this activism. Using my empirical results, this paper presents a new theoretical explanation for the 2015-2016 protests. I argue that racial tensions sparked the first demonstration. However, as the protests spread to other campuses, they were driven less by racial grievances and more by a pervasive culture of political correctness. This paper concludes by applying this new theoretical framework to the budding wave of 2017 protests.