In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Involvement of an External Organization in College Campuses' Mobilization Processes
  • Cassie L. Barnhardt (bio)

One critique of campus activism portrays student organizers as naïve young people who can be co-opted by the resources of powerful external organizations (Graham-Felsen, 2006)—organizations equipped with agendas and the financial resources to advance causes (Van Dyke, Dixon, & Carlon, 2007). The involvement of external agenda-based organizations in campus activism creates the potential to exploit campus-based college student organizers. In fact, the channeling argument (Jenkins, 1998) posits that, as part of an overall movement strategy, external groups work to control or exploit other movement actors for their own benefit by directing their resources in ways that achieve these ends. To guard against such potential for co-optation requires knowing more about how external groups gain influence in campus activism. In an era of heightened mobilization, peppered by dark money groups, astroturfing organizations (Vogel, 2017), and bot-automated organizing campaigns, we need to make sense of external entities' influence on campus activism.

Prior inquiries into campus mobilization have focused on the approaches external groups use to influence college students through conferences, advice, internships, awards, and summer programs (Messer-Davidow, 1993; Smith, 1993; Stefancic & Delgado, 1996). This focus on tactics is constructive but limited. Presently, we know little about which campuses are likely to have their students targeted by external groups. Campus educators and students alike require information to help anticipate whether they can expect to experience external involvement and, if so, what type. Such insights will allow campuses and their students to better assert agency in navigating these realities, thus assuring that campus activism is an authentic representation of free expression from campus community members and not externally manufactured.

The college student anti-sweatshop movement is the context for this examination of the phenomenon of external involvement in campus organizing. In brief, this movement addressed student activists' concerns over labor abuses in the collegiate-branded apparel textile industry (Krupat, 2002; Mandle, 2000). The anti-sweatshop movement (from 1998 to 2002) is an optimal case to examine a unique type of involvement of external organizations in campus mobilization because there were clear, rational grounds (Snow, Rochford, Worden, & Benford, 1986) for both campuses and external groups to make claims about the substantive issues. Campuses were tied to the anti-sweatshop cause by virtue of their procurement contracts with licensed collegiate apparel vendors (e.g., Nike, Reebok, Adidas) who engaged in outsourcing their textile production to factories with exploitative labor practices (i.e., sweatshops). The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was connected to the cause out of a desire to motivate college students to become involved in its labororganizing campaign. Other allied labor unions (here, academic labor unions) were also [End Page 522] potentially connected to this goal. In 1996, the AFL-CIO developed the Union Summer program—a 6- to 10-week summer internship for college students. It taught students about global labor injustice and labor organizing each summer until 2001 (Featherstone & United Students Against Sweatshops, 2002).

This analysis draws on national data sets and publicly available information about campuses and union activities to present a model of an external organization's influence in campus organizing. The purpose of this study is to begin to understand the extent to which campuses are vulnerable to—or at risk of—outside influences from other social movement actors. Research questions include, What campus characteristics increase the chances that its students (a) will be targeted by an external organization for participation in the cause, and (b) will seek out an external organization to advance a cause? Also, (c) What types of campuses are most vulnerable to, or at risk of, the direct influence of external organizations' efforts to engage students in a cause? By considering the factors that predict recruitment to the AFL-CIO's Union Summer program, student participation in the program, or both, it is possible to understand the conditions that expose campuses' students to the influence—or perhaps at times, intrusion—of political and ideologically linked external organizations.


The sample included all US 4-year public and private (nonprofit) institutions (N = 2,177) retrieved from IPEDS for...