As a doctoral student in Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science, I wrote new APA Division 15 Policy Brief and am now sharing it as a video blog.
I argue that racial disproportionality in school discipline in the U.S. has contributed to gaps in outcomes—including lower academic achievement, risk of drop-out, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
In this video, I provides recommendations for policy and practice, including providing professional development for all educators in race, bias, and equity.
Education is a fundamental right. However, the public school system continues to fall short in delivering on its promise to provide an equal education to all students. One of the ways in which this happens is through racial disproportionality in school discipline.
While causes of the discipline gap are complex, researchers have found implicit bias, differential selection and processing, and negative racial stereotypes are greatly to blame:
Differential Selection and Processing: There is evidence that students of color are more likely to be “selected” for harsher discipline, despite similar behaviors exhibited by classmates.
Implicit Bias: Infractions that require subjective instead of objective interpretation (e.g., disrespect versus drug possession) account for a great deal of the discipline gap, as they allow implicit bias to drive decision-making.
Negative Racial Stereotypes: Researchers found that behaviors cited most commonly for Black girls’ discipline referrals aligned with racial stereotypes of behavior, such as being too loud or having a bad attitude.
Scholars argue that the goal of equitable education for all students cannot be realized while racial disparities in school discipline persist, including not only who gets chosen for discipline, but also the harshness of that discipline. Read more from this research brief online.
Author Bio: Theresa Pfister is a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology – Applied Developmental Science from Friendship, Wisconsin, studying adolescence, the importance of relationships, and equity. An educator first and foremost, she believes deeply in the importance of working in partnership and utilizing research as a tool of empowerment. Before coming to the University of Virginia, Theresa was a teacher-trainer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, a 4th grade teacher in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and a College Advisor at SEO Scholars in Manhattan.
Have you ever found yourself at a gathering fumbling to find the words to describe your academic work to family and friends? Do you find it difficult to communicate your scholarship to, and build partnerships with, non-researcher audiences? Are you an early career or seasoned researcher interested in disseminating research to practitioners, policymakers, or community members but struggling to find the best way to do so? Or are you a senior researcher mentoring a trainee through this process?
If your answer to any of these questions is “YES!”, then read on! Writing research briefs is an instrumental part of professional development but, for many researchers, not a formal aspect of training. Drawing on our experience writing research briefs, here are some tips for the challenging, but rewarding, process of translating your research into a brief.
Why Write a Brief?
Research briefs deliver the essence of research findings in a relatable manner to a non-researcher audience. Briefs can
Broaden your research’s impact by disseminating findings to non-researcher audiences, including communities historically marginalized in research
Strengthen university-community partnerships and relationships by transparently communicating with partners
Facilitate future partnerships and employment through increased visibility
What Exactly IS a Research Brief?
A research brief is a concise, non-technical summary of the key takeaways from a research study. Briefs communicate research insights to the public, thereby translating research and evidence-based practices into real-world settings.
The focus of a brief varies depending on the intended audience. Provide explicit recommendations for practice if you want to reach a practitioner audience. Explore policy and infrastructure needs when writing for a policymaker audience.
Plan to share briefs in diverse settings. Share briefs with research partners (participating districts, schools, teachers), professional networks (at conference presentations), and broader audiences (on personal websites).
Lead researchers on our research team are part of a statewide partnership to support the dissemination of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework. This partnership involves researchers and representatives from the Maryland Department of Education, a large behavioral health organization, and all school districts within the state. Researchers regularly write and share briefs with the statewide group, taking into account evolving needs and interests. Check out some of the briefs here.
Briefs Should Be…
Brief. Condensing a full-length manuscript into a two-page document is challenging. But doing so helps distill the study’s real-world implications and identify steps for future work. Two pages is optimal as it can be easily shared as a one-pager when printed.
Accessible. Graduate-level coursework in statistics should not be required to understand a brief. The usual audience for briefs will not have the time or energy to absorb methodological details or nuanced theory. Write as if you were presenting to a family member or your favorite high school teacher.
Visually appealing. A visual representation of an idea will capture attention better than text and help with brevity. Your paper likely already has some type of visual (for example, a logic model) that you can tweak. If not, pull from your visual-making skills you have already honed when creating posters and conference presentations! This process may have you re-thinking how you visually present your research, even in peer-reviewed publications.
A team effort. Individuals bring diverse skills and strengths to the research team. The study’s lead author may be able to articulate results, but a co-author may have the vision to creatively illustrate these findings in a figure. Make use of each member’s skills by making brief-writing an iterative, team effort.
Tailored to your audience.If you are developing a brief for a specific audience, ensure that key takeaways and recommendations are relevant and actionable. In some cases, you may have a more technical audience to whom you may present the data more formally. In our own experience, district partners have sometimes asked for more numbers and statistics.
Building Expertise with Brief Writing
Training in doctoral programs, which often encourages lengthy, detail-oriented writing, runs counter to the skills inherent in writing research briefs. While certain programs offer training for writing for non-academic audiences, we advocate for a greater focus on this skill during graduate training. All of the post-doctoral authors of this blog got their first exposure to writing research briefs on this research team. Inspired by our own on-the-job training, we provide the following recommendations for mentors:
Frame writing the brief as an opportunity. Briefs may feel tangential to the graduate student research mission and challenging to existing skillsets. Thus, the process should be framed as an opportunity to develop an integral set of skills to advance professional development. This will help with motivation as well as execution.
Provide a template for the brief that can be easily tweaked and tailored, so that graduate students have a model for the finished product, minimizing formatting issues. Publisher and Word have visually appealing templates for flyers that can be easily populated and organizations that publish briefs may provide templates and layouts.
Know your audience and their interest in the work. The audience should be well-defined (for practitioners, policy makers, or other researchers) and their perspective and interests well-understood. Although knowledge of the audience could come from prior work experience, direct communication with the audience is desirable to gain a firm grasp on their lived experience. If direct interaction is not feasible, mentors should “think aloud” to mentees about which details, words, and images would be most effective and appealing for this audience.
Early scaffolding should be followed by continued support. After being a co-author on a brief, a graduate student can transition to writing their own brief. They may still need support to complete this task autonomously, with continued feedback from mentors and co-authors.
Provide graduate students with targeted experiences and formal training opportunities to facilitate proficiency and efficacy in brief-writing. This might include:
University-based or paid workshops for students and early career faculty focused on writing for non-academic audiences
Opportunities to interface directly with practitioners
Writing research briefs is a key translational activity for educational researchers, but for many, requires skills not cultivated in formal training. Our research team has embarked on the journey of developing and sharing research briefs regularly over the past few years. This is an evolving and rewarding process for all of us. We hope this post has provided some helpful information as you continue your journey to be brief!
*Note: Authors are listed alphabetically and contributed equally to the preparation of this post.
Summer S. Braun is a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will be joining the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama as an Assistant Professor.
Daniel A. Camacho is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development.
Chelsea A.K. Duran is a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will be starting a position with the University of Minnesota in the summer of 2021.
Lora J. Henderson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will soon be starting as an assistant professor in the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University.
Elise T. Pas is an Associate Scientist (research faculty) at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Over the past decade, there have been remarkable changes in the social, political, and legal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, especially in the United States.
There are over 11 million LGBT individuals in the U.S., but many data collection efforts lack measures that capture the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.
To address these and other issues, I co-edited a new report that identifies the need for heightened attention to the social and structural inequities that exist for LGBTQI+ people and argues for new research on the full range of sexual and gender diversity.
In the fall of 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a landmark report on the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, intersex (e.g., persons with differences of sexual development), and other sexual and gender diverse people (LGBTQI+). The study updates and considerably expands a 2011 National Academies’ report on the health of LGBT people by also examining life experiences in multiple domains, such as law, education, public policy, and employment.
In a recent opinion piece for JAMA Pediatrics, my colleague and I shared the report’s review of the current state of knowledge on children and youths in several areas and offer some considerations on these subjects for pediatricians and other healthcare providers who work with children and youth. I highlight here a few areas of focus that may be of interest to educators, developmental psychologists, and other researchers.
Demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity for people younger than 18 years remain sparse, since many data collection instruments still fail to assess these in pediatric populations. However, surveys that do collect this information show a consistent pattern of increasing disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity (coming out) by adolescents over time. For example, findings from 10 US states using the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System show significant increases in adolescents (ages 14-18 years) identifying as nonheterosexual (lesbian, gay, bisexual, other, or questioning) over time (ie, 7.3% in 2009 and 14.3%in 2017). This change reflects greater affirmation of minority sexual and gender identities by younger people. This is happening in a context of growing societal acceptance of sexual and gender diverse individuals that has been characterized by increased visibility of sexual and gender diverse populations, more positive media coverage, improved legal protections, and more supportive school policies.
By reinforcing societal expectations of sexual and gender normativity in behavior and appearance, schools play vital roles in the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children and youths. Educational environments that are not inclusive, supportive, and protective of sexual and gender diverse students expose them to stigma, violence, abuse and other mistreatment that may promote negative academic outcomes, such as delinquency, lower academic achievement, and lower high school graduation rates. For example, a study matching 900 LGBTQ students with a comparison group of heterosexual youths found a higher rate of school suspensions among LGBTQ students that were not explained by punishable behavior at school. In contrast, schools that offer supportive policies and practices, training for teachers and other school personnel, and support for gender-sexuality alliances (sometimes called gay-straight alliances, or simply GSAs) have been shown to have less bullying. In these schools, LGBTQ students report feeling safer and having higher self-esteem, fewer mental health problems, less substance use, and less suicidal ideation.
Consistent with earlier studies, recent research on the physical health of LGBTQI children and youth reveals their earlier initiation and higher prevalence rates of cigarette smoking, use of alcohol and other substances, as well as higher risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. There has been a significant increase in research and knowledge of mental health over recent years. These data extend earlier findings of significant disparities in depression and suicidality, demonstrating higher rates of anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and suicide attempts compared with heterosexual youths. In addition, there is now evidence that mental health disparities in adolescence can persist into adulthood, increasing the risk of LGBTQI adults for mood, anxiety, and eating disorders.
The current report underscores the urgent need to integrate measures of sexual and gender diversity into major public and private survey instruments. The report also emphasizes that while acronyms such as LGBTQI are used to describe this population, LGBTQI people actually have many other identities as well, and they are more diverse than this acronym suggests. I hope that our report will deepen understanding of the experiences of these youth and help to support constructive discussions among LGBTQI youngsters and their family members.
To read the full report and highlights from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, please see Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations. Note that the report can be downloaded free of charge from the National Academies Press website.
Patterson CJ, Sepúlveda M-J, White J, eds; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations. The National Academies Press; 2020. doi:10.17226/25877
Sepúlveda M, Patterson CJ. LGBTQI Youths Today—New Knowledge, Better Understanding. JAMA Pediatrics. Published online May 24, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.0893
Author Bio: Charlotte J. Patterson is a Professor in the UVA Department of Psychology. Her research focuses on the psychology of sexual orientation, with an emphasis on sexual orientation, human development, and family lives. In the context of her research, Patterson has worked with children, adolescents, couples, and families; she is best known for her studies of child development in the context of lesbian- and gay-parented families.
Recent 2021 opinions from the Virginia Supreme Court have allowed the City of Charlottesville to consider acting on Confederate monument removal.
These statues have been a topic of petitions and rallies since 2016, including the deadly Unite the Right Rally in August of 2017.
New research sheds light on how adolescents were making sense of the rally and events that unfolded within their community in 2017.
In the spring of 2016, Zyahna Bryant, a 15-year old high school student at the time, wrote a petition to City Council calling for the removal of the Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee and the renaming of Market Street Park (then still named Lee Park) in downtown Charlottesville. Although the park has changed name twice (first to Emancipation Park, and then to its current name, Market Street Park), the statue remains in place despite calls for and multiple attempts at its removal.
In addition to being home to the statue, Market Street Park was the main site of the 2017 Unite the Right rally where members of white supremacist and affiliated groups gathered to protest the statue’s removal. At the time, this was one of the largest and most violent U.S. gatherings in decades.
In April 2021, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion to reverse previous circuit court rulings that had prevented the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. As the City of Charlottesville starts a process to act on the monument removal, Youth-Nex is revisiting new research findings about adolescents’ perceptions of the Unite the Right rally that occurred in their own town, during the summer of their middle school years.
Dr. Joanna Williams, a Youth-Nex faculty affiliate, was interviewed by Kalee De France and the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) to explain this unique and important research of how young adolescents were making sense of the events that unfolded within their community.
Question: What, in your opinion, is the main takeaway of the article?
Williams: I’ll start by saying there’s like a lot of context to this paper. All of the authors were living in Charlottesville in 2017 when the Unite the Right rally happened. We were about to start year two of a mixed-methods project that was focused on investigating diversity and social relationships in early adolescence. The Unite the Right rally happened in August of 2017, about two weeks before the school year started and, because of the focus of our project, we decided to ask students about their understanding of what had happened.
One of the key takeaways is that we should expect heterogeneity in how youth process events like this. There was a lot of heterogeneity in how kids interpreted and were responding to the Rally. One group of students said things along the lines of “Yeah, I know what happened, but it’s not really on my radar.” A second group knew a lot of the details of what happened but didn’t feel personally impacted – they sounded like news reporters in their accounts.
Another group of students had spent a lot of time processing and talking about what happened. And for some of them, their processing led to disillusionment, like “I can’t believe that stuff like this still happens” or “I thought we were beyond racism”.
There was a fourth group who were feeling, either at the time or a few months later, a sense of fear and vigilance. They said things along the lines of “We know why the KKK was here, and I’m Black. And I know that they were here because of people like me”. These students shared feelings of anger, fear, or just general concern. And, finally, there was a smaller subset of students who were sort of dismissive—they felt like people were overreacting to the situation. They said things like “I’m embarrassed to live in Charlottesville because we’re getting so much attention because of things like this”
The second type of heterogeneity that we saw was in relation to who belonged to these groups. On one hand, the group of students who expressed fear and vigilance were all students of color and most identified as Black. On the other hand, there were also many Black and other students of color who did not express any personal stress or concern, but there were White students in this group as well. White students made up the bulk of students who sounded like reporters or who expressed disillusionment or sympathy. The small group of dismissive students all identified as White.
It’s important to make sense of this heterogeneity in the context of what we know about young adolescents: they’re making meaning of important and abstract concepts, like racism and white supremacy while also trying to make sense of their own identities.
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.
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?
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
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
-Ariana Gueranmayeh, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, VA.
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.
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.
By Anoushna, a high school junior & WIT Teen, in New York City.
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.
By Anya Pfeiffer, Kennedy Eagle, Olivia Burke, Kate Price, & Alexis Allen
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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:
support from their principal, BSU recently sent surveys to students, teachers,
school counselors, and families and are planning interviews to help identify
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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
for adult researchers, parents, educators and more who want to explore youth
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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:
I thought would be valuable from an
adult perspective, and
That spoke to me the most from the
Youth-Nex team, we decided on four categories with four videos each:
Demonstrating Commitment and Determination,
Finding Yourself and Identity, and
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
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
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.