First Advisor

Christine Cress

Term of Graduation

Spring 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Postsecondary Education


Educational Leadership




Citizenship -- Study and teaching, Leadership -- Moral and ethical aspects, College students, Interpersonal conflict



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 315 pages)


Colleges not only educate students in academic discipline knowledge, but also help them develop skills to meaningfully lead and participate in our complex democracy as socially responsible citizens. All campuses have formal and informal opportunities to engage students in roles that challenge and develop students' socially responsible leadership skills including commitment, common purpose, and collaboration. However, individual and organizational elements such as differences in perspectives and hostile climates can quell leadership and educational participation, inhibit critical student development skills, and result in disempowerment, especially for those students from underserved communities. Given this, a critical question is how can colleges foster conditions that promote the formation of complex and pluralistic democratic and socially responsible leadership skills within the context of contemporary societal political, ideological, and social polarization that are replicated and enacted on today's campuses? To address this question, this qualitative inquiry examined how diverse student leaders navigated conflict and controversy and their resulting dilemmas with their peers, and how such experiences affected their democratic learning and leadership development. Study participants identified both the value of constructive conflict that leads to more advanced moral reasoning and equitable practices, and the harm of destructive controversy that further polarizes and entrenches opposition. The latter experiences resulted in deleterious effects on participants' interpersonal and psychological wellbeing, whereas the former experiences, while challenging, served as an opportunity for student leaders to develop and practice resilient and interculturally insightful skills of perspective taking, emotional intelligence, and advanced conflict resolution strategies that served to empower individual and group commitment toward common purpose and shared goals. Emerging from the data is a new definitional model of socially responsible leadership (SRL) that is both a process and product of a blended ethic of care and ethic of justice approach in realizing democratic attitudes, knowledge, skills, and outcomes. Specifically, the four interconnected and dynamic dimensions of the SRL conceptual model are self-efficacy, group accountability, shared power, and empathetic conflict resolution. Implications and meaningful strategies for colleges to help facilitate growth through conflict across individual, group, and organizational domains are discussed.


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