Ranita Ray, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, worked on education policy through the organization Hearing Youth Voices in New London, CT. ASA asked Ray about that work:
What is the mission of Hearing Youth Voices? The organization, primarily led by youth of color, has worked to systematically transform the local educational system . The organization, thus far, has created campaigns around specific issues (e.g., attendance policy in local schools that systematically affect marginalized students of color) and then organized to make changes in policy. The organization’s mission is to target specific issues that impact young people of color.
Could you describe your involvement with the organization? In 2012, with the aim to reform schools, the State Department of Education carried out an audit of the public-school system in New London, CT. In the process, teachers, a few parents, members of the board of education, as well as administrators were interviewed so they could inform school policy. Yet, youth voices were missing from this discourse. As an answer, two community members and I started Hearing Youth Voices, a participatory action research project led by the youth. We conducted participatory action research with students of the New London School system and presented their perspectives to the local community and added this knowledge to discourse on school reform in the local community. I helped create research trainings as well as workshops on racism, patriarchy, capitalism for local youth. Together we created a research project that centered youth voices in local education reform. I continue to serve as a board member.
What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? I helped train the youth to use in-depth interviews and surveys. Together, we interviewed students, coded and thematized the interviews, and wrote up the qualitative analysis. We also analyzed the survey results. We summarized data from this mixed-method study, and youth presented it to the local community including individuals who were part of the local administration (ultimately youth transformed local education policy). I also helped create workshops on white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism as youth got ready to code, analyze, and present the data. The challenging and rewarding part of the process was that our aim was not simply for me (and the two other adult leaders) to collect and analyze the data but rather to provide research tools and illustrate sociological concepts for youth who were part of the New London Public Education System, so we could collectively collect and analyze data.
Duration of the project? About a year.
Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? Hearing Youth Voices has become one of the more prominent youth-led movements on the national landscape. The organization is truly youth led. The organization has received several grants and awards for the crucial work they do. They have also begun to collaborate with organizations and movements across the U.S. I urge sociologists to consider learning more about, and donating to, this organization where black and brown youth are leading anti-racist systemic change.