The Research Collaborative on Youth Activism was an effort to form an interdisciplinary network of researchers who study and work collaboratively with young people in their schools and communities.
The purpose of the RCYA pilot project was to:
- create a learning community of researchers who are engaged in research about youth activism;
- organize information and facilitate the dissemination of relevant research findings to policy makers, practitioners and researchers in order to increase support for youth activism and social change activities;
- serve as a clearinghouse for empirical research on youth activism by making social science research more accessible to the general public, policy makers and practitioners.
In 2007-09, the project accomplished many of its initial goals:
- Established a formal network of researchers, and youth practitioners;
- Published an edited book about youth activism and youth policy - Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America;
- Secured additional funding from Surdna;
- Disseminated a social justice youth development conceptual framework;
- Identified and disseminated promising strategies for youth policy makers.
The RCYA is motivated by the need for research, education, and youth development to address several pressing and problematic issues that young people face. The findings of RCYA teams' finding are consistent with other research studies and have identified many barriers to young peoples' attainment of their educational and professional goals and constructive social and civic participation. These include:
- Fear-based Policy rather than Future-based Policy: Fear-based policies are laws, rules, and ballot measures that attempt to control behaviors and contain movement of young people in urban communities.
- One-Sided Accountability: Increased accountability movements have made teachers, administrators, and students accountable to top-down standards, but seldom require accountability based on evaluation by students and their families. Furthermore, federal requirements for high-stakes testing are holding students in under-funded schools equally responsible for the same knowledge as students in affluent areas with access to higher-quality educational resources.
- Inequitable Educational Resources: Researchers identified two areas as key indicators of educational inequality. First, variable access to challenging and college preparatory curricula is still apparent and continues to limit the educational outcomes for many students. The second issue is disciplinary practices that are based on punitive rather than restorative justice.
- Criminalization of Youth: Criminalization of youth is marked by policies that allow courts to issue more severe sentences and punishment to youth.
- Social Disinvestment and Disenfranchisement: Community disinvestment includes economic and industrial decline, environmental contamination, high unemployment, lack of access to pre-school and childcare, lack of access to affordable health care, and lack of access to financial services. These problems all undermine the ability of people in low-income urban communities to support their children's learning.