Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Paul Naso

Second Advisor

Dr. Valerie Shinas

Third Advisor

Dr. Jean-Dominique Hervé Anoh


In recent decades, there has been a decline in the participation of Black students in high school student councils, causing concern that the Black student population is underrepresented in this traditional form of civic engagement. This hermeneutic phenomenological study investigated the lived experiences of Black individuals who attended Massachusetts’ public high schools and were faced with the opportunity to seek membership in student council. Three guiding questions focused on factors influencing a student’s decision to seek membership in the organization and the alignment between the portrayed purposes of student council with the participants’ actual experiences and perceptions. A modified snowball approach was used to collect data from 103 individuals, twenty-five of whom met the delimitations of the study and identified themselves as Black. Interviews were conducted with seven participants. A frequency analysis helped to illustrate themes from the survey data, and the interview data were coded both manually and using NVivo software. The analysis revealed themes that became the basis for six findings. The findings suggest that participants were more likely to join student council when they felt their involvement could impact their school communities. Participants did not feel their student councils provided an open forum for non-student council members to share their ideas; however, they could see potential benefits of student council if organized appropriately. Many prioritized other activities over joining student council. The purpose they most associated with student councils was their fundraising function, and participants credit their student council experiences for their strengthened communication skills. Recommendations from this study advise school leaders and student council advisors to examine demographic patterns of participation and find ways to include the voices of all students to achieve racially diverse participation and reclaim the fundamental purpose of student councils.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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