Having already successfully completed the first phase of an initiative aimed at involving youth in creative processes and informing conversations about youth rights, members of the University of Arizona Crossroads Collaborative are entering the second phase of the initiative.
The project, jointly led by UA researchers Stephen T. Russell and Adela C. Licona, was funded initially by the Ford Foundation for two years at $730,000. Since the first award was made at the start of 2011, the foundation has provided an additional grant at $330,000 to fund the program through 2014. All told, that brings funding to $1.06 million.
"One of the amazing things about the Ford Foundation is that it is funding aspects of our work that are hard to get funded," said Stephen T. Russell, interim director of the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
"Part of what the grant is about is helping us to think about the utility of our work and figuring out how we can make sure that it is going to advance the conversation around youth rights," said Russell, who also directs the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families. "The resources allow us to have the time to think about what we've learned and what the implications can be."
In the second phase, the team will continue to address youth voice in research and how it might inform local practices and policies while also continuing to work to undercut deficit-based language that suggests youth are disinterested, ill-informed and unable to make choices about their own lives.
"Youth have had a chance to learn more about the Crossroads Collaborative, and we, too, have learned a lot about what their voices are telling us about what they know and what they need," said Licona, a UA associate professor of rhetoric. "We've built these relationships over the last two years and want to be sure we do something with all we are learning. We are privileged to be involved in change-oriented research and teaching practices."
In developing that practice, the team will be sharing the knowledge gleaned from the first phase of the project with educators, youth, families, other scholars, youth-serving organizations and policymakers, among others, in an attempt to inform policy and practice, namely for the benefit of youth.
"Our projects and practices in the collaborative are informed first by respect for the youth we are fortunate to work with and learn from," Licona said.
"There is a reciprocal component of our research agenda and that is for us to do more than only take knowledge from the groups we work with, we must also become community resources for youth and their adult allies in the youth-serving organizations they are participants in," Licona said, adding that, as a collaborative, those involved begin to more clearly see and understand youth needs and also their strengths.
"And there are so many amazing youth we have met and worked with who are committed to making Arizona better," Licona also said.
Likewise, the Crossroads Collaborative will continue to train its scholars, UA graduate students engaged in dissertation and thesis work around action-oriented research on critical youth issues focused on healthy sexualities and sexual health and rights.
The collaborative also will extend engagement to include interconnections with topics such as citizenship, curricular-inclusion, racial and economic justice, gender and sexuality, relationships, literacy and literary activism. The use of the media, and how teen pregnancy and teen parenting are often misrepresented, also are among the key topics for the collaborative.
Another issue the team will address in the second phase will be to undercut deficit-based language that suggests youth are disinterested, ill-informed and unable to make choices about their own lives.
"Culturally, we don't take young people seriously," Russell said. "When youth reach their teenage years, they actually do have the ability to speak with authority on their lives, even when we don't view them as authorities on their own lives. To me, that is a social justice issue."
As part of the communications strategy, Russell and Licona will coordinate research briefs directly informed by youth voices. In particular, a media portal and a series of briefs slated to be released next month will incorporate the writings of youth, many of which came out of workshops the Crossroads Collaborative facilitated.
"We asked: 'What does the research say about youth? What do the youth say about research? And what do those things tell us that can be helpful to our policies, our schools and the community?' I think that what has emerged is much more of a complicated and multi-layered understanding," Russell said.
One issue that arose out of working with youth is that "one out of five kids were not sure if they had bullied someone," Russell said. "Just hearing a young person ask that basic question means we can then have action and collaborate and articulate a shared understanding of what it means to exclude and bully people."
That sort of interaction must happen more often, and around other issues, Russell added.
He and Licona also will be co-editing a special issue of the "Community Literacy Journal." The peer-review journal, which is slated to publish toward the end of 2013 or the start of 2014, will capture research and narratives around action-oriented research – the type of work the Crossroads Collaborative promotes.
"One of the things I am most proud of is that the Crossroads Collaborative is informed by both community knowledge and scholarly knowledge," Licona said. "For us, in the collaborative, it is about engaged research with respect and about public scholarship. We want the critical and creative knowledges we are engaging through our research with youth to be broadly accessible and at work in the world."
In the initial phase of grant funding, members of the UA Crossroads Collaborative partnered with Eon/Wingspan, Kore Press Grrls Literary Activism, YWCA Tucson and the San Francisco-based Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
The UA team and its partners have worked in tandem with young people, studying and learning about how youth learn about and receive messaging around sexuality, health, and rights and also how they are subsequently affected. Over time, youth were also engaged in conversations and workshops around other contemporary issues that are relevant both nationally and locally, such as immigration and bullying.
Among the projects, the UA faculty and students collaborated with YWCA Tucson's Nuestra Voz Racial Justice Program, offering youth workshops on issues of justice around race, gender and sexuality.
The UA team also collaborated on a workshop series with Kore Press related to the use of language and media and the role of the body in activist work and with Eon, the youth program of Wingspan, on issues of social justice and community performance with a focus on LGBTQI youth and their allies, and with the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam, TYPS, around the role and rhetorical function of creative discourses in social change.
"With Crossroads, they would help us to be more aware of certain aspects of our community – what you don't hear about at home or at school," said Araceli Montano, who first became involved with the Crossroads Collaborative while in high school and as a Tucson Youth Poetry Slam participant.
Now a UA freshman, Montano said she found that she became more self-aware and that her self-expression became more vivid through her involvement with the Crossroads Collaborative.
It is not that she and her other peers were not aware of such issues, Montano said, adding that current sociopolitical issues are discussed among her peers. But being more engaged in conversations around immigration and citizenship, for example, helped her to become more expressive, particularly in the performing arts across Tucson, she added.
"It was very different because we learned a lot of things having to do with how to be calm when you perform and how to get into your own mindset and put energy into your performance," Montano said.
"My writing was more personal, but after Crossroads, it become more about social and political things, and also the personal," Montano said. "I was really helpful and provoked some things for us to write about that were really deep to me."
Montano said she and other students were encouraged in her work with members of the Crossroads Collaborative.
"We were able to grow personal ties with people outside of the poetry club," she said. "It intrigued us because there were adults who actually cared about us and our work and who had a purpose in trying to provoke us to do something good."