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Oxford University Press


With data from a national study of a network of 28 private, non-profit colleges in the United States, I show how the individual actions of high school and college staff became collective “social desire paths” to introduce new organizational practices to enroll students who were undocumented. In interviews with staff, four factors emerged as important in enrolling students: (1) the way social desire paths started as ad hoc processes and then were entrenched through the collective and similar responses of staff; (2) identification of financial, administrative, structural, and cultural barriers to inclusion that formed the basis for the development of social desire paths; (3) the way staff innovated paths by reforming current procedures as well as developing new practices; and (4) the role of organizational values in supporting social desire paths. Along with uncovering the processes and practices, I also argue that using a social desire path approach helps researchers and managers detect organizational structures that exclude desired populations, and provides a means by which the actions of “street-level bureaucrats” that become collective can address social problems at the organization level.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Social Problems following peer review. The version of record Nichols, L. (2020). Addressing Exclusion in Organizations: Social Desire Paths and Undocumented Students Attending College. Social Problems, 67(3), 471–487 is available online at:



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