Art Can Be a Force of Change

By: Maya Koehn-Wu

Maya also took over the Youth-Nex and Equity Center Instagram accounts to talk more about this blog and her experiences with the Sound Justice Lab.

Highlights

  • Maya is a second year undergraduate majoring in Urban and Environmental Planning with a minor in Dance. 
  • In celebration of Youth Art Month, Maya shares more about how she was encouraged to be creative and engaged with her community during her teen years.
  • Now she is bridging art and social justice issues as she continues using her creativity to change the world.

I consider myself an artist across multiple mediums. I draw, I paint, I dance, and more.

I began making art when I was young. In high school, I developed my own style, where my artwork depicted gestural figures in motion, dancing in a time-space continuum of energy. Creating and making such pieces became a way for me to create action in a space of stillness. It was a way in which to communicate the complexity and chaotic dimension of movement within a controversial space, within everyday life, within a dance piece.

Source: Maya Koehn-Wu

My dancing simultaneously – whether it was within the studio or at community events (where our dance company would put on productions that told Latin folktales in order to share and teach about Latin Culture), became an extension of my art; bringing a shared energy of pastels and color to moving about on a stage. Dancing Flamenco became a passion; where stomping to a rhythm also was a way to tell a story through movement and not words.

Source: Maya Koehn-Wu

Why Be Creative

Art for me has always been about creating a space for self expression where words often can’t, which is true for many young people. My high school teacher always said, “it is important to create something everyday.” I have since taken those words to heart.

Whether I am sewing, cooking, dancing, painting, drawing, or creating graphics for internships, I have always taken it upon myself to create daily.

I think adults should encourage youth to find creative outlets, to explore different avenues for expression, and foster the development of young artists to be creative.

In a world of standardized testing and schooling, there is often little room for subjective creativity and emotional intelligence. Creativity fosters skills that move people, skills that bridge people together, skills that foster empathy and emotion. It is this power to foster emotion and share common humanistic values that makes art so powerful.

Being an Active Community Member

Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to give back to my community. The Latin Ballet, the studio I danced at, was centered around bringing in the community. After each production we would bring the audience on stage with us to come learn some steps of Bachata, Salsa, or Flamenco.

This helped me connect with kids younger than me, but also share my talents to inspire the next generation of youth artists.

I became passionate about being an even more active member of my community. I worked as a kayaking instructor on the river, where I grew to understand the importance of conservation. I became an activist on fighting to mitigate issues surrounding Climate Change and became empowered by the power of Greta Thunberg’s voice shouting:

Youth CAN make a difference.

Within Richmond, VA I then began interning at a project directed towards studying urban heat islands, where I learned that impoverished neighborhoods and certain streets of Richmond were often 10+ degrees hotter than other parts of the city due to limited tree coverage. From that experience I learned that green space, poverty, equity, and resource access are all interconnected.

I became emboldened to be a voice and advocate for equitable change.

Bridging Art & Social Justice

It wasn’t until I learned that art and equity development can be connected that my perspective on the world transformed.

I have begun to work in a space where dance, music, and art drive my social justice projects. Today I work as an intern at the Sound Justice Lab, a social justice project affiliated with the UVA Equity Center and centered around amplifying voices of gender discrimination. I create graphics, flyers, website material, and visual content that incorporates my artistic passion to present expressive visuals that are measurable and meaningful.

I also work on a project called Project Drumline, where we teach kids rhythm with bucket drumming, music, and dance through City of Promise.

On my journey to become an active and artistic citizen, I have learned that art brings in a level of emotion and depth that sparks conversations amongst people, and conversations are the key to beginning to enact change. I have learned of the power of expression behind a piece of art. I have learned that being creative is a way for me to fight for change and to bring profound meaning to my causes.

Youth are looking for a place to express themselves, to find their own voices.

We want to be a force of change, and sometimes all it takes is putting some color on a piece of paper and other times it’s turning on music and moving your body.

Just remember, art can change the world.


Maya and her sister founded an organization, SistersProjectPeru, who’s ultimate hope is to build a sustainable medical clinic in rural Huacahuasi Peru in the hopes of increasing healthcare accessibility and empowering women on a global scale. Maya recently held an auction of her art to raise money for the organization. To learn more, please visit https://www.sistersprojectperu.org/.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Maya Koehn-Wu is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia. Her intersectional identity as a multiracial female inspires her exploration of different cultures and drive to constantly be making global connections and impacts.Through dance, art, and creative social justice work, she seeks to experience the world outside of where she lives. In addition to being a globally minded, assertive, and politically vocal citizen, she is working as an environmental activist seeking to work within the global community to tackle climate change.

The Power of Intergenerational Activism

By: Celina Adams

Highlights:

  • In spring 2021 I worked with the Teachers in the Movement project during my final semester as an undergraduate.
  • During this time, I reviewed and conducted oral history interviews that explored teachers’ ideas and pedagogy inside and outside the classroom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
  • In this original blog post, I reviewed an interview with Mrs. Flora Crittenden and reflected on the power of intergenerational activism.

Mrs. Flora Crittenden is a remarkable woman who positively impacted her students and community throughout her lifetime. She worked as an educator, guidance counselor, and politician during the Civil Rights Movement. Her incredibly deep involvement in her community speaks to her determination to facilitate racial justice in every aspect of life. I reviewed an oral history interview from Mrs. Crittenden during my involvement with the Teachers in the Movement Project, and a major theme that arose in the discussion of her career is the importance of support systems. This yielded intergenerational progress that is evident in the lives of Mrs. Crittenden, her family members, and her students.

Role Models & Background 

While attending the only school that accepted Black students in her county in Newport News, Huntington High School, Mrs. Crittenden interacted with teachers who maintained high standards for her. This high school was established around 1920 with the intention of providing quality education to African American students, and in Mrs. Crittenden’s experience, it did exactly that. Mrs. Crittenden specifically recalls the impact her high school biology and chemistry teacher, Mr. Hines, had on her. While in his class, she was assigned projects that she found uninteresting. She was determined not to complete her assignments; however, Mr. Hines pushed her to conduct the necessary research. Mrs. Crittenden believes that educators like him were the reason she attended college and excelled academically. Mr. Hines was one of the many resources Huntington High School afforded Mrs. Crittenden, and his impact in her life extended beyond his classroom. Years after she graduated, Mr. Hinesbecame the principal of George Washington Carver High School which is located in Newport News. He alone was responsible for the school’s opening and operations due to the lack of resources provided by the School Board. As a result, he recruited Mrs. Crittenden to help develop the school’s curriculum and hire faculty. Mr. Hines garnered her support prior to the school’s unveiling in 1949. He went to her home, and he said “Mrs. Crittenden, get dressed—we got to go make a school.” This simple statement coupled with his guidance radically affected Mrs. Crittenden’s life. It gave her the opportunity to invest in a school in a way that most teachers are unable to do.

Educating during the Civil Rights Movement 

Even though the subject matter Mrs. Crittenden taught (girls’ physical education and occasionally biology) did not easily align with the ideas promoted by the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Crittenden made an effort to remind her students that they were valued, citizens. She wanted them to know that neither their age nor race made them inferior to anyone. Mrs. Crittenden worked predominantly with young women since “physical education classes were separated by gender but not the academic classes.” It was not until 1972 that all classes were required to be coeducational as a result of Title XI. Therefore, the majority of Mrs. Crittenden’s students had to navigate a society that praised whiteness and masculinity. This challenging situation made the affirming messages Mrs. Crittenden taught increasingly necessary. Additionally, she encouraged her students to be an active member of their communities despite social norms. This approach was rooted in her belief that:

Educational institutions have the ability to strengthen both families and nations by producing educated and thoughtful citizens.

Mrs. Crittenden was determined to ingrain these ideals in her students. Her teaching style suggests that activism can occur in any environment. It is not limited to certain subject matter, locations, or age groups. She suggests that “it just so happened that [she] was a teacher” who used her career as a platform to promote Civil Rights. Mrs. Crittenden’s work suggests that activism is rooted in an understanding of the humanity of people.

Life Beyond Teaching 

Mrs. Crittenden sought opportunities to enact change in the lives of young people and community members beyond teaching. This led to her decision to become a guidance counselor. This new position allowed her to counsel students in a more personalized manner; she could tailor her approach to individual students rather than classrooms with multiple people. Mrs. Crittenden was invested in the lives of her students. Furthermore, she was able to engage directly with students and parents creating an environment that fostered student success. Thursa Crittenden, Mrs. Crittenden’s daughter, recalled an experience in which a student received a scholarship to an excellent university, but he did not want to attend that institution. Mrs. Flora Crittenden knew the school would afford him numerous opportunities, so she traveled to the students’ homes to speak to his parents and compel him to accept the university’s offer. He ultimately decided to attend the university, and he attributes his success to Mrs. Crittenden’s persistence. This situation highlights Mrs. Crittenden’s deep desire to support her students.


Read more in the original blog post on how Mrs. Crittenden’s family shaped her view of education and ultimately led to her deep appreciation of teaching, her educational background, her life after retiring from teaching which include becoming a representative for the Virginia House of Delegates, and references.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Celina Adams recently received a Bachelors of Science in Education in May 2021 from the University of Virginia. She double majored in Youth in Social Innovations and American Studies. She currently works on the Counseling and Equity team at ReadyKids, a local nonprofit that provides educational, developmental, and counseling support to children and families. This position embodies Celina’s interests in racial justice, culture, and mental health. She hopes to continue her studies in order to learn how to highlight the stories of marginalized people and promote positive racial identity development. 

Vlog: Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the first in a series. View the second post entitled “Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog, I share more about my experience working with youth, and talk about what adults can do to better support youth who are focused on both the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

There is a pandemic that has been going on for centuries and a pandemic that we just started about 2 years ago. It is easy for adults to just focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say we’ll figure out the other things later about racial injustice. But for many youth that is not their focus or lived experience. So what can adults do to support youth at this intersection of the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic?

The best thing adults can do is ask questions and listen.

Say “teach me more about that,” or “I don’t know I understand.”

Put youth in the driver’s seat and make them teachers. Have them show you their experiences, and how they are navigating through it to make meaning of their experiences. Especially teenagers who are muted in their own responses, ask them questions about how they are processing and dealing. Create a space that is non-judgmental where a youth can be their genuine self.

If you are working with youth, there are 3 rules to follow:

  1. Show Up: When you are there with youth, be there completely. Limit distractions and be fully present.
  2. Keep Showing Up: Be there for youth and build a deep connection. Keep showing up time after time working with the same youth. Don’t be a one-and-done, but instead be there for the long haul!
  3. Be Authentic: Don’t make assumptions, and be true to yourself. Say “tell me what that is like” instead of pretending you know or understand their experiences. Say “what can I do to better understand your experience.”

Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Black Femininities & Masculinities and a Critical Lens on Class in Grown-ish

By Kimberley Castano & Claire Netemeyer, University of Virginia students

This blog post is the fifth and final in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies and TV series that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this final of five posts in the series, the two youth writers review “Grown-ish,” a spin-off of the hit show Black-ish that follows young Black woman Zoey on her journey at college with a group of friends.

For parents or educators who may choose to use this TV series as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • Based on the summary of the episode, do you think that these characters in Grown-ish falls into historic Black stereotypes or not?
  • What effect does watching a show featuring mostly Black characters have on potential adolescent and teenage viewers? On both Black and White audiences?
  • Do shows/movies that have a majority Black audience have the obligation to inform their Black audience of real world issues and realities they may face later down the road?
  • Why is it consistently the audience who has to call our directors and creators when creating media. Are there ways to change the narrative of these shows and will we ever see big changes?

Source: Freeform

The TV series Grown-ish is a spin-off of Black-ish, following the life of the eldest daughter. Yara Shahidi plays Zoey Johnson, and viewers see her experiences as she maneuvers life at Cal-U, a fictional university in Los Angeles. When I was in high school, I began watching this show, and it made me fantasize about college and all the people I would meet. However, now that I am in my second year at the University of Virginia, I recognize that the image of college portrayed in this film is far from the truth. I chose to analyze the episode titled Can’t Knock the Hustle in which Zoey is cut off from her father because she cheated and was almost expelled from school. 

Children learn many behaviors from television, and the exposure to certain shows is what they will take away as the program’s overall meaning. According to Brooke and O’Connor (2000), racial socialization is the process in which Black parents equip their children with the skills and strategies necessary to cope with the knowledge of being Black in society (pg. 512). However, the media also plays a major role in the socialization of Black children. When shows like Grown-ish alter the reality of real-world experiences, children can be deceived and disappointed when they are put into those positions. In this case, Zoey is cut off financially by her parents, but she is still wearing high-end designer brands like YSL and other expensive clothing from Barneys and Saks Fifth. Her situation is far from the struggle that the episode depicts.

Read more from this critique by

Source: TV Promos

A spin-off of the hit shows Black-ish and Mixed-ish, Grown-ish follows young Black woman Zoey on her journey to college and details not only her own life but also that of her friends. Featuring both Black and non-Black characters, the show must negotiate the historic stereotypes of Black individuals that seem to both highlight and combat them.

I watched season one, episode ten of Grown-ish where main character Zoey’s friends are hanging out in a bar, and twins Jazz and Sky start talking about how Black men at their college are only interested in dating White women. They share their struggles to find partners as Black women to their friends, and mention “the list” of most dateable women in which White women are most preferable and Black women are the least. They also observe their friends and others flirting at the bar. The conversation and character actions over the next day reveals critical themes and ideas about Black femininities, masculinities, and their accompanying stereotypes (the brute and the sapphire).

Read more from this critique by

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Kimberley Castano is a second-year at the University of Virginia originally from Queens, New York. She is majoring in Global Development studies with a minor in African American and African studies. She is interested in studying the ongoing effects of colonization, globalization, and imperialism on different communities in the African-diaspora, specifically in the Caribbean. In her free time she likes to try new foods, create art with friends, and watch movies.

Author Bio: Claire Netemeyer is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia and is studying Media Studies and Spanish. She will be attending Teachers College at Columbia University next year to study higher education and hopes to use her communications background in a career in college admissions with a focus on inclusivity and diversity. In her free time she enjoys musical theater, baking, and spending time outdoors.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Moonlight Disrupts our Expectations in Ways That are Both Captivating and Breathtaking

By Ariana Gueranmayeh & Annabell Lee, University of Virginia students

This blog post is the fourth in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this fourth of five posts in the series, the two youth writers review “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age film that follows the life of Chiron who is navigating his complicated identity as both a Black and gay man from growing up in Miami into adulthood.

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • What impact, if any, does the setting of the film (mainly in Miami and briefly in Atlanta) have on the storyline? In other words, if this were set elsewhere, like a small town for example, in what ways would the movie differ?
  • Would Moonlight have received the same praise and recognition for its new and daring storyline if it were released a decade or two earlier? What impact does the political climate in the United States have on conversations about this film?
  • What are some of the ways in which this movie combats stereotypes?
  • Are there any characters, scenes, or themes that you believe play into stereotypes? What role/purpose do you think these stereotypes play in this movie if any?

Source: Moonlight

The movie Moonlight is a 2016 coming-of-age film that follows the life of a young Black man named Chiron who grew up in Miami, Florida. The film follows three chapters of Chiron’s life (Little, Chiron, and Black) that chronicles his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. Moonlight offers a contemporary and emotional take on many realities that represent Black American life. Specifically, it shows society’s stereotypical expectations of Black men and the subsequent damage that has been done to them. Chiron’s story is told through breathtaking cinematography and emotionally rich score, capturing scenes that are both moody and dark, yet lit with fluorescent pastels that reflect Miami perfectly (Aguirre, 2016).

Each of the three chapters in the film brilliantly captures Chiron’s daily life and its complexities. Moonlight “undoes our expectations as viewers” as it centers around Chiron who we meet as a quiet young boy and just beginning to explore his gay Black masculinity (Als, 2016). He yearns to escape his home life where his mother has fallen to a drug addiction, leaving a void in his life that of Juan, a dope dealer, and his soft-spoken partner Teressa fill. Chiron finds solace when he shares an intimate moment with his friend Kevin, taking a step into unexplored waters. This moment is pivotal and leaves a mark on him in the decade that follows until he reconnects with Kevin in his adult life. Moonlight breaks the stereotypical boundaries media has created for Black characters, especially that of a young Black man, and reintroduces humanity. Chiron is an exemplary character who demonstrates several boundary-breaking characteristics and is an outstanding character to focus this discussion around. The themes of sexual identity, masculinity, and identity development will be explored through the lens of Chiron’s character.

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.

-Ariana Gueranmayeh, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, VA.


Source: Moonlight

One question I found myself asking was “Why does this movie feel different?” I believe that it was different on many levels. On an individual level it made me realize my own expectations of “Blackness,” and how this movie disrupted that. I recognize the idea of “Blackness” as a superficial representation that has been perpetuated by the media. According to Adams (2011): Blackness is defined as a superficial symbolic representations of cultural preferences, norms, expression, dress, language, mannerism and communication styles that are treated as representations of African American cultural and ethnic identities that have been defined by mainstream society and media.

This movie also feels different on a normative level, as movies typically don’t go against cultural stereotypes, rather, they perpetuate them. From a young age we are repeatedly shown images from the media that create this superficial image of what it is to be Black.

As Tynes and Ward say in their 2009 paper, “The Role of Media Use in African Americans’ Psychosocial Development,” the gradual exposure to stereotypes portrayed in the media causes us to take these representations and see them as reality. This is known as cultivation theory (Tynes and Ward, 2009). The implications of this for African Americans is especially dangerous as the media has chosen to portray them as one-dimensional characters reduced to either comic relief or the tough gangster, cops or robbers. This covert racism against Black people has primed viewers to have these expectations about the characterizations of Black characters. 

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF

-Annabell Lee, a 4th year student at the University of Virginia originally from McLean, VA.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ariana Gueranmayeh is currently a third-year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, Virginia. At UVA, she is studying Youth and Social Innovation with a minor in Public Policy and Leadership. Ariana is aspiring to use her academic pathway at UVA to lay the foundation for the work she hopes to do in our nation’s public schools. It is her hope that she can spearhead meaningful and lasting education reform that will positively impact our students. In her free time, Ariana enjoys hiking, cycling, and photography.

Author Bio: Annabell Lee is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Media Studies and Psychology, originally from McLean Virginia. She is interested in the effect of media on psychology and vice versa. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and roller skating.

Exposing Students to a Range of Political Opinions

By Anoushna, a high school junior & WIT Teen, in New York City.

Highlights:

  • Youth today are living in a more polarized society than ever, with an increasing perception gap in politics and the media.
  • This is creating a social issue for students, but schools can get involved to continue to be places of progressive thinking.
  • Even if we have different views, schools need to take action to expose students to a breadth of political views and open their understanding of current events.

The recent political crisis in the U.S. has highlighted how polarized our society has become – whether it’s politicians, the media, or the general public. While social media adds to the isolation of political views, there is a deeper problem of differences across the political spectrum. People are frequently even unwilling to consider dialogue with those who have different views. Emotionally charged debates have left families and friends choosing to avoid the subject to keep the peace, or venting and turning away from each other. It is time for schools to acknowledge this as a serious social issue. Schools need to get involved and find a way to assist our society’s new and future leaders.

The Perception Gap

The vast and growing gap between Democrats and Republicans has caused a stark division between Americans. Each year, supporters of the opposing parties increasingly widen a divide between themselves over their different beliefs and perspectives. A recent study shows, however, that the perceived differences between the two parties are actually a result of misunderstanding and generalized preconceptions. The study called “The Perception Gap” highlighted how Democrats have exaggerated, negative perceptions of Republican views and vice versa. The study suggests the growing disconnect in the understanding of the opposing political party is responsible for the stark division.

Political affiliation is one example of this polarization. In general, there is a deep suspicion between people with conservative leanings and those with more progressive leanings. The suspicion and lack of appreciation of why alternative views are held are unfortunately used by news stations to appeal to their particular audience. News stations with different political views often portray a narrowly focused or distorted view of the same event. As people tend to trust news sources that reaffirm their own beliefs – leading to confirmation bias – people are usually not exposed to the larger picture, but rather kept in a bubble.

What Schools Can Do

Schools and colleges are typically places of progressive thinking, where society nurtures its future thought leaders. Looking back over the history of Western education in the 20th and 21st centuries, most new political movements were either created or at the very least strongly supported by the youth. Naturally, schools continue to be the place of progressive thought.

However, political polarization creates a significant problem. People do not want to discuss middle grounds and instead spend more time in the bubbles of their own opinions. These bubbles also vilify the other side, making it even less appealing to discuss.

Schools need to teach young people the art of listening to others even without the intention of changing their minds. It is important to be able to accept differences of opinion, even if the different opinion is itself not acceptable.

The ability to understand why someone reasonable can have an opposing opinion to you and interact with them is a skill that has diminished in recent times. Schools need to step in to help foster students who can learn to forge a middle ground. Recently, schools and the education system seem to have forgotten that the word liberal means to be open to different views.

The Art of Dialogue

Introducing students and the youth to a breadth of opinions on current events will help foster their critical thinking skills and open their minds to forge their own opinions that are not swayed by preconceptions. It will also allow them to be able to defend their views under critical review, which will sharpen their understanding of their own beliefs. Finally, the discussion will allow those under the sway of significant misinformation a chance to be exposed to more factual information, without feeling threatened.   

This approach actually does exist today, when people discuss varied cultural backgrounds. People allow for differences in attitudes, traditions, foods, clothing, and practices, without trying to force their own views. It has been hard to allow for such debates in the political sphere since the discussion there seems to want to define the “uniquely best American way”. It’s time that the schools taught us again that we are all Americans, even if we have different views.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WITtag_blue.png
Youth-Nex is excited to feature teen entrepreneurs from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. The posts in the Youth Nex + WIT series are submitted by teen entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring and discussing topics ranging from education inequity, mental health, political issues, and more. The teens choose the topic and the views expressed in their posts are theirs and not connected to WIT or Youth-Nex. 

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Anoushna Bardhan is a high school junior from New York City. She is interested in environmental, sustainable design, entrepreneurship, and journalism.

Youth Action Lab: Undergraduates Reflect on Leading and Learning with Local Youth

By Anya Pfeiffer, Kennedy Eagle, Olivia Burke, Kate Price, & Alexis Allen

Highlights:

  • Youth Action Lab (YAL) helps young people develop social science research skills to transform their lives and communities.
  • YAL uses a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework to engage youth as researchers who systematically explore community issues they care about.
  • In this article, undergraduates serving as mentors in the YAL reflect on their experiences working with local high schoolers to design research studies, gather and analyze data, and take action to address the issues they explored.
Source: Students participating in YAL created this video to explain the YPAR framework.

As Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) majors, we joined Youth Action Lab (YAL) as our community-engaged project for the YSI capstone class, an accumulating applied course required for all seniors in the YSI major. The goal of YAL is to equip young people with research skills to transform their lives and communities.

Youth Participatory Action Research

In YAL, we used a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework where youth become researchers, systematically exploring issues that impact their schools and communities. Building on their lived experiences and expertise, our high school students develop research questions, design social science studies, gather and analyze data, and then take action to address the issues they explore. YAL uses a mentor-led approach, where we, as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, teach a YPAR curriculum through interactive lessons tailored to meet each group’s needs and objectives. By building community and promoting equity and inclusion, YAL empowers youth through research and collaboration.

Tackling Virtual Learning

One of our first tasks for YAL was researching best practices for virtual learning. Some strategies we found helpful were using digital collaboration tools and providing opportunities for flexibility and student choice. Collaboration tools (such as using breakout rooms and Padlet) allowed students to work together in smaller groups and participate in interactive experiences.

Allowing students to co-construct our lessons by asking what they’d like to learn or how we could support their project also created a more engaged learning environment. Sometimes, this looked like just showing up to listen and provide a space to discuss current events instead of a lesson. Most importantly, we learned to make a plan but be open to adjusting — extending a meaningful activity or discussion is much more important than doing scheduled activities.

YPAR in Action

We applied our research on virtual learning as we started working with two high school student groups, Charlottesville City Youth Council and Albemarle High School Black Student Union. Throughout the year, our team meets with each group biweekly to help guide them through lessons that support the research process.

Youth Council (YC) decided to explore why some students attend private middle schools instead of Walker and Buford but then return to Charlottesville City Schools for high school. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • The students created a survey to ask local high school students about their middle school experiences and perceptions of different schools. The survey received over 70 responses.
  • YC is now in the process of interviewing adult stakeholders including parents and school board members. Conducting a mixed methods research project has allowed them gain experience with surveys and interviews and engage with different community stakeholders.
  • By the end of the year, YC will present their research findings to City Council and/or the Charlottesville City School Board. YC hopes their research will push the City to implement more programming to address the stigma around public middle schools.

Our team of facilitators have loved working with this group. They are wise beyond their years and show a high-level understanding of societal issues including classism and racism which they are mindful of in their research.

Black Student Union (BSU) is a student organization focused on sharing and supporting the culture and experiences of Black students at Albemarle High School. During our first meetings, BSU identified several issues at their school and decided to examine the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in Dual Enrollment (DE) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Since most BSU students have experienced being one of few Black students in higher-level classes, they had a personal connection to the issue. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • With support from their principal, BSU recently sent surveys to students, teachers, school counselors, and families and are planning interviews to help identify potential solutions. 
  • One idea they have is a summer program that will serve as a bridge to prepare students to transition to more advanced classes. BSU’s overall goal is to make higher level courses more accessible and ensure students of color are prepared to succeed.
  • BSU plans to present their research findings to the Albemarle High School staff and leadership and are also exploring the possibility of presenting to the Albemarle County School Board.

In addition to conducting this research project, BSU continues to advocate for Black students and has held multiple events for their school community to celebrate Black culture and history. Our team has been beyond impressed by this group of motivated and passionate students.

Final Thoughts

Working with two very different and incredibly inspiring groups of high school students has been such a wonderful opportunity. As YAL facilitators, we teach high schoolers how to frame and investigate real world issues through social science research, but we undoubtedly learned just as much from them about framing and addressing problems in our own lives and communities.


YAL is supported by the Equity Center and Youth-Nex. We are always looking for new partners interested in bringing YPAR to the youth they serve. To learn more about YAL and YPAR resources, please visit our website.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Anya Pfeiffer is a fourth year Youth & Social Innovation Major and a first year candidate for a Master’s of Public Policy and Leadership from the Batten School. After graduation, she hopes to work on education or housing policy.


Author Bio: Olivia Burke is a 4th year Youth and Social Innovation major and Public Policy minor who is passionate about education research. Next year she will pursue her M.Ed. in Quantitative Analytics at UVA. 


Author Bio: Kate Price is a fourth year student majoring in Youth & Social Innovation in the School of Education. She is extremely interested in applying youth developmental frameworks to practical settings which help prompt adolescents to critically reflect, use their voice, and make a difference in their communities. 


Kennedy Eagle and Alexis Allen are also YSI students.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Dope’s Complicated Relationship with Racial Stereotypes

By Lee Woods, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia

This blog post is the third in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this third of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “Dope,” a movie about Malcolm, a high school senior and self-identified “geek.” Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, Malcolm’s dreams to break out and attend Harvard are complicated following a wild party and drug encounter.
Source: YouTube, Open Road Films
Trailer for “Dope”

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • How do you think Malcolm’s unique character impacts Black audience members? Is he harmful or helpful? 
  • Is Malcolm’s less stereotypical character enough to counteract the more stereotypical characters in the film?

Dope

The film Dope follows the story of a high school senior, Malcolm, and his best friends, as they navigate their way through school bullies and life in the rough parts of Inglewood, California. Malcolm, who is intelligent and charismatic, identifies as a 90s hip-hop geek, plays in a band, and has dreams of attending Harvard. However, his life becomes complicated when he meets Dom, a drug dealer who invites him to his birthday party at a club. Things quickly go south when the party is raided by the police and Dom frantically hides a gun and illegal drugs in Malcolm’s backpack. Chaos ensues when Malcolm discovers this at school, and is aggressively pursued for the drugs by Dom’s rivals.

Escaping the pursuit, Malcolm rushes to make his Harvard interview, only to encounter that his admissions interviewer, AJ, is the original owner of the drugs. Although Malcolm is eager to return them, AJ refuses and informs Malcolm that he must sell them and return the profit. Fearful for their lives and futures, Malcolm and his friends devise a plan to sell the drugs on the black market. Successful with the sales, Malcolm cleverly links the drug money to a Bitcoin account under AJ’s company name, putting AJ in a position where he must accept him into Harvard if he wants to obtain his earnings. The story comes to a close as the friends attend prom and Malcolm receives his Harvard acceptance letter.

Overall, I found Dope to be entertaining and comedic. I thoroughly enjoyed its nontraditional and suspenseful plot line. I found myself captivated as Malcolm’s character developed from an awkward teenager to a more confident young man. Additionally, the seamlessly integrated cultural references helped to drive the plot and add relevant, humorous tones.

Black Stereotypes

Throughout my viewing of the film, I could not help but to make connections to Ronald L. Jackson’s II Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media, concepts of Blackness, and positive and negative Black stereotypes (Jackson, 2006; Allen & Thornton, 1992).

First and foremost, Dope relies heavily on its audience’s schemas surrounding race, while also challenging them. The film presents Malcolm and his friends as non-stereotypical Black characters that do “White people things”, such as playing in a band and getting good grades. Malcolm and his friends craft their identities by rejecting their assumed “Blackness” and adapting more individualistic personas. These untraditional portrayals surely help to defy racial stereotypes, but also present the main characters, specifically Malcolm, as more complex individuals that cannot be easily categorized.

Although Malcolm’s more positive and nontraditional portrayal helps to defy racial expectations, it comes at the cost of the less developed side characters who happen to reinforce negative stereotypes. Characters like Dom and other residents of Inglewood, are criminalized and stereotypically portrayed as violent drug dealers. In accordance with researchers Allen and Thornton’s (1992) ideas about positive and negative stereotypes in Black media images, Malcolm represents a positive depiction of a Black male with “ethical and moral insight”, while Dom and the other drug dealers are much more negative, with “tendencies towards dishonesty, laziness and hedonism” (Allen & Thornton, 1992).

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.


Author Bio: Lee Woods is a third year student at the University of Virginia, originally from Roanoke, Virginia. She is studying Media Studies and Studio Art. She especially enjoys understanding and analyzing media in relation to social issues such as gender and race. In her free time she finds joy in painting, being in nature, and spending time with her cat.

The Importance of Youth Voice

By Ashley Higgs, a 4th year student at UVA.

  • Providing opportunities for youth to give their perspectives, share ideas and speak their opinions is an important part of development.
  • Youth-Speak is a blog and video resource platform for youth by youth
  • Using videos from Youth-Speak, I helped create a new website for adult researchers, parents, educators and more who want to explore youth voice.

Follow Ashley as she takes over the Youth-Nex Instagram account to share more about her experience in creating the Youth-Speak website! Watch the highlights of her stories saved under ‘Take Overs’ in our profile.

Source: Youth-Speak. This youth discusses what you can do if your family doesn’t agree with you or support you.

As a rising fourth year at UVA majoring in Economics, I was interested in broadening my involvement across campus and gaining more skills as I graduate and enter the job market. Last fall, I started working with Youth-Nex, and one of my first projects was helping reinvigorate and relaunch a blog on youth voice.

What is Youth Voice?

I was not familiar with the term “Youth Voice,” so I began by researching. I found out quickly that it is what it sounds like, or “the perspectives, ideas, experiences, knowledge, and actions of young people.” But, why is youth voice important? The benefit of youth voice goes beyond understanding how youth think and behave from a social, developmental, and psychological perspective.

Allowing youth the platform to speak their own ideas, opinions, and advice to others is transformative in itself.

Giving young people the opportunity to express themselves, and further, respecting their thoughts and ideas, is valuable for individual and social youth development. Youth should be involved in the decisions and discussions that will shape their future.

Youth-Speak

Youth-Speak is an online video resource blog created by Youth-Nex that spotlights the voices of many young people in the Charlottesville area over the past ten years. This extensive video archive shows middle and high school aged youth speaking on a range of subjects, from school and discipline to relationships and gossip. These videos were developed as a resource for youth and by youth. Whether it be to hear other peers speak about overcoming challenges, learning how to develop confidence, or tell personal stories of inspiration, these videos were developed for youth as a resource to seek advice and support from individuals their own age.

I wanted to discover how these resource rich videos could be used to highlight the youth voice from an adult perspective. I wanted to go beyond the youth lens and apply the adult lens to the youth voice.

In order to do this, I needed to better understand how existing youth voice platforms display their content, target an audience, and elevate actual youth voices. One site, Youth Speaks, offers youth a platform for artistic verbal expression. Specifically, it seeks to make the connection between poetry, spoken word, youth development and civic engagement. Another platform, Youth Voice, serves as a discussion-based blog where youth can write and publish their own ideas, share posts with peers, and engage in online discussions with others. Many resources I found were designed for youth engagement and interaction. But, my challenge would be how to highlight the importance of youth voice to adults.

Adults Using Youth-Speak, a New Resource

After researching existing youth voice sites, I dove into the Youth-Speak videos with the questions of “how would this video be valuable for an adult researcher” and “what topics would parents, teachers, etc. care most about?” With an “adult lens” in mind, I watched every video, taking notes on the content and subjects. Specifically, what I, as a young adult, thought would appeal to an older adult. I found that I empathized with much of the video content, since I was in high school not that long ago.

After watching and streamlining the videos into more condensed categories, I developed a plan on how we could create a new resource or website that highlighted some of these videos for parents, educators and adult researchers. I selected around twenty videos that:

  1. I thought would be valuable from an adult perspective, and
  2. That spoke to me the most from the youth perspective.

With the Youth-Nex team, we decided on four categories with four videos each:

  • School Challenges,
  • Demonstrating Commitment and Determination,
  • Finding Yourself and Identity, and
  • Coming Out.

We also chose two videos, “What Matters Is Being True To Yourself,” and “Persisting and Staying Positive” to highlight at the beginning of the blog. We chose these four categories because we thought the subject matter would be most impactful for an adult to hear from a young person. And further, we believe these videos can demonstrate to an adult why elevating youth voice is important.

Today we are launching this new website for adults that highlight some videos from the Youth-Speak blog. Eight different youth are represented, each with different experiences, stories, and advice. The personal challenges, stories of inspiration, and advice these youth offer have not only benefitted their peers, but will now have the opportunity to benefit adults in their exploration of the youth voice.

After completing this project, I have learned just how important it is to respect someone’s voice, no matter their age. If you are interested in exploring more of the videos, there are hundreds of the original Youth-Speak videos and interviews on Youth-Nex’s Youtube Channel.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ashley Higgs is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Economics and minoring in Anthropology. She is from Richmond, Virginia, and will begin her career in Tysons, Virginia after graduation. She has been involved in Best Buddies at UVA throughout college, and also enjoys spending time outside, running, and cooking.

The Unspoken Social Impacts of Virtual Learning

By Emma, a 15-year old WIT Teen, in New York.

Highlights:

  • Zoom classes have changed what “school” looks like to many students across the country, and in ways that go beyond academics.
  • Remote learning has eliminated many of the organic social experiences and opportunities that come with being a high-schooler, including the disappearance of hallway conversations.
  • These challenges also have some benefit, helping many teens to recognize and appreciate the value in everyday interactions.

It’s not breaking news to say that virtual learning has been a challenge for everyone. It’s difficult to sit in front of a computer and stay engaged for hours, the time being filled with busy work and assignments that all blur together.

But in my mind, the real cost of Zoom schooling has been the loss of social connections. High school is the time that we’re supposed to put ourselves out there and have fun and meet people and try new things. Simply being in the school building forces you to have interactions that seem casual, but turn out to be quite valuable.

Classroom friendships, developing personal connections with teachers, and even a quick laugh in the hallway are all aspects of the school day I once took for granted. Now, I miss them all.

And I believe many high schoolers will have a new respect for “in person learning” after experiencing what it’s like to learn remotely and not be able to interact with their peers.

The Loss of “School Friends”

“School friends” are people whom you don’t often talk to when you leave the classroom. Sure, you might follow them on social media or text them if you’re stuck on homework, but you wouldn’t necessarily make plans with them separately because you’re not really that close. They may be someone who was randomly placed in your group for a project, but over time they became someone you could glance at when the teacher said something funny, or that you would gravitate towards if you were told to “partner up.” You might have one or two of these “school friends” in each class, and even though you wouldn’t invite them to your birthday, they still make whatever class you had together that much better.

But, you can’t really share a smile with someone over Zoom; being stuck in a breakout room with someone just isn’t the same as toiling over a project in person. I’ve made hardly any “school friends” this year, and I’ve really missed the connection and bonds that came with those relationships. I didn’t realize the value held in the light friendships that appeared throughout my day.

The Student-Teacher Relationship Shift

Before this year, it was pretty easy to understand a teacher and get a good grasp on each class within the first couple weeks, and you could often feel like the teacher actually understood who you were and the work that you were going to produce as well. And though I feel most teachers have a sense at this point about who their students are, there’s still a certain lingering distance between the students and faculty.

It’s much harder to get to know someone over a screen than when you’re standing face to face. And, when you don’t know someone as well, it’s more challenging to be attentive, to want to learn, and to just be yourself.

It seems to be the consensus amongst students that we’re not as comfortable asking for extra help through one-on-one Zooms as we would be asking to stay after class to go over a question.

But I think the appreciation students have for their instructors will increase once we’re back in the classroom, due to the surprising impact this lack of connection has had.

The Disappearance of Passing Hallway Conversations

While in school, the time between classes were some of the best parts of my day. For students (such as myself) who enjoy being social, catching up with friends, saying hi to others, and just being able to see everyone and recognize the faces around me during the five-minute increments in the halls, passing time was…almost fun. Now, my time between classes consists pretty much of finding the next Zoom link (maybe I’ll get a glass of water or even go for a snack if I’m feeling really crazy). It’s just another factor that makes every day the same as the one before, and most likely a preview for the one coming after. I had never thought about the impact these short interactions had on my day, and now that they’re not there anymore, I really miss those moments.

The Silver Lining

However, it’s not all bad. Not being forced to see people every day means that we have to be proactive if we want to connect with others. I’ve been able to see who’s really important to me in a way that I haven’t before, noticing myself being more intentional with the connections I’m making, and not keeping in contact with some people who I previously thought were some of my good friends. With school no longer forcing us to interact, I’ve found out who I actually want to spend my time and energy with, as opposed to who I hung out with just because they were there.


Youth-Nex is excited to feature teen entrepreneurs from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. The posts in the Youth Nex + WIT series are submitted by teen entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring and discussing topics ranging from education inequity, mental health, political issues, and more. The teens choose the topic and the views expressed in their posts are theirs and not connected to WIT or Youth-Nex. 

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Emma Wasserman is a 15 year old from Chappaqua, New York, attending Horace Greeley High School as a freshman. When not in school, she’s either playing piano, dancing, writing, hanging out with friends, thinking about science, or running her social enterprise “The Sweet Project.