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Purpose Development in College Students: The Role of Critical Consciousness

Publication Authors: 
Allison White and Belle Liang
Publication Year: 

Previous research suggests that adversity may act as a motivator to purpose development, but the mechanism is unclear. This study focuses on the roles of critical consciousness (CC) and adversity in cultivating purpose. We interviewed a diverse sample of 17 purposeful college students (76% female; 41% students of color) from a Northeastern university and analyzed interviews using Consensual Qualitative Research methods. Students with both high levels of CC and purpose—particularly those reporting experiences of adversity—tended to have clearer understanding of their purpose. They seemed able to make meaning of their adversity in ways that empowered them towards critical action. Rather than internalizing adversity and blaming themselves, they understood macro and systemic determinants of the adversity and were motivated to serve as change agents of these influences. Findings are consistent with post-traumatic growth research that suggests making meaning of adversity is associated with critical awareness and action.