THE PENN YOUTH SUMMIT                                           on Civic Engagement and Social Change

February 25, 2021

A Pre-Forum Research Seminar for the

42nd Penn Ethnography in Education Research Forum

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

February 26-27, 2021

Click here to view the Penn Youth Summit Flyer 2021.pdf

How do youths use their voice, narratives, and understandings of civic engagement and social equity to create change in their communities?

The Penn Youth Summit on Civic Engagement and Social Change will focus on the perspectives and research of high school youths regarding their roles in and possibilities for achieving positive change for their communities. It will convene young people in Philadelphia and elsewhere to share their ideas about the problems we face locally and globally and the significance of youth knowledge in addressing racial, social, and economic disparities and inequity. The Youth Summit is open to high school youth and youth-serving organizations, their teachers and other educators, and family and community members. The 2021 Youth Summit is being led by The Youth Civic Engagement Research (YCER) Project's Social Inquiry for Social Justice Group in collaboration with The Community Literacies Project, both at the University of Pennsylvania, and the participation of The Youth Voices Project at Michigan State University.


The Youth Summit will consist of three segments:


  • A Roundtable of high school youths who are members of three community research projects: The Youth Civic Engagement Research (YCER) Project-Social Inquiry for Social Justice Group, The Community Literacies Project, and The Youth Voices Project. Youth attendees will be able to raise issues and present ideas for discussion throughout the Roundtable. 


  • Research Concept Project Gallery, including short videos by YCER youths, representing their efforts to use research in ways that enhance their communities and address pressing issues. 


  • Conversation on Critical Social Issues by Researchers, Activists, and Students


The Youth Summit recognizes the increasingly critical role that young people play in engaging with and working on behalf of their communities. It builds upon the wealth of commitment and knowledge that they draw from their school and out-of-school experiences and that they enact to make a difference in promoting equity, justice, and change. 


The Youth Summit is being held as a Pre-Forum Research Seminar, created in 1991as a collaboration between Dr. Vivian Gadsden, currently YCER Director and Professor, and Dr. Frederick Erickson, who at the time served as director of the Center for Urban Ethnography The Pre-Forum Research Seminar has been held traditionally the day before the official start of the Forum and was designed to bring together emerging scholars with senior researchers in using ethnography to examine persistent problems facing ethnically and socially diverse communities while expanding the knowledge base related to culture, race, and equity. The Youth Summit continues this tradition-embracing youth researchers and scholars alike committed to studying complex questions and creating approaches that support their communities.  



Special Guests

Camille Z. Charles

Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences Professor of Sociology & Africana Studies

Undergraduate Chair, Department of Africana Studies
Director, Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen Faculty Co-Director, Penn First Plus

Chloe Richardson


Senior, Drexel University; YCER Alumna

Marc Lamont Hill

Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University; activist; and television personality

Camille Z. Charles is Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences in the Departments of Sociology and Africana Studies, and in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Charles earned her Ph.D. 

in at the University of California, Los Angeles, where

she was a project manager for the 1992-1994 Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality. Her research interests are in the areas of racial inequality, racial identity, racial attitudes, intergroup relations, residential segregation, and higher education.

She is author of Won't You Be My Neighbor: Race, Class and Residence in Los Angeles, which explores explanations for persisting residential segregation by race, and co-author of The Source of the River: The Social Origins of Freshmen at America's Selective Colleges and Universities and Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities,

each based research from The National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF), an effort to understand racial differences in the experience of elite higher education in the United States. She is co-author of "Sociology, Segregation, and the Fair Housing Act." Also, along with her co-authors, she has recently completed a new book-length manuscript, tentatively titled, Divergent Currents: The Diverse Origins of the New Black Elite, also based on data from the NLSF.

Chloe Richardson is a Philadelphia native and soon-to-be graduate of Drexel University. She plans to receive her BA in Global Studies with a concentration in Global Justice and Human Rights. Her avid interest in human rights policy led her to also receive a certificate in the Global Institute for Human Rights Program from the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law in summer 2020.  In the fall, she plans to attend the American University School of International Studies to begin her Master's education.


As a high school student in 2015, Chloe had the opportunity to work with Dr. Gadsden on a similar project looking into issues that students of color in urban environments face.

She is very excited to be a part of this renewed conversation. Hearing from and engaging with students is both inspiring and encouraging for Chloe. 

Dr. Hill  is currently the host of BET News and the Coffee & Books podcast. An award-winning journalist, Dr. Hill has received numerous prestigious awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, GLAAD, and the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Hill is the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities, and Solutions at Temple University. Prior to that, he held positions at Columbia University and Morehouse College.

Since his days as a youth in Philadelphia, Dr. Hill has been a social justice activist and organizer. He has worked on campaigns to end the death penalty, abolish prisons, and release numerous political prisoners. Dr. Hill has also worked in solidarity with human rights movements around the world. He is the founder and director of The People's Education Center in Philadelphia, as well as the owner of Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books.

Ebony Magazine has named him one of America's 100 most influential Black leaders.

Dr. Hill is the author or co-author of six books: the award-winning Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity; The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black life in America; Nobody: Casualties of America's War on The Vulnerable from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond; Gentrifier; We Still Here: Pandemic, Policing, Protest, and Possibility among other books.

Photo by Mercedes Zapata
Gerald Campano

Professor and Chair of the Literacy, Culture, and International Education Division at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania

Eve L. Ewing

Sociologist of Education and Assistant Professor in the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Matthew Hartley

Associate Dean and Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education

For close to 10 years, Dr. Gerald Campano worked as a public-school teacher, during which time he garnered district teacher of the year awards and was a Carnegie Scholar. Dr. Campano's scholarly interests span elementary literacy teaching, critical ethnic studies, immigrant education, and practitioner and participatory research approaches. Throughout his academic career, he has been interested in universalizing research as an epistemic right through community-based inquiry methodologies premised on an ethics of care and interdependence.

Dr. Campano's current research project is now a decade-long research-practice partnership with a faith-based organization in South Philadelphia, which has been supported by grants from the Spencer Foundation and the American Educational Research Association. The partnership involves thinking and researching alongside families from diverse cultural and linguistic communities as they investigate issues of social inequity and construct a shared vision of educational justice and immigrant rights that may be shared in teacher professional learning contexts. Dr. Campano is also involved in a collaboration with colleagues from the University of Guadalajara, exploring literacy teacher education from a transnational and decolonial perspective.

Eve L. Ewing is a qualitative sociologist of education at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Professor Ewing's scholarship, community work, and classroom teaching are aimed at expanding the ways that urban school stakeholders, researchers, and the broader public can be equipped to understand, respond to, and ultimately dismantle white supremacy, and to make school systems liberatory institutions rather than oppressive ones. She is the author of the poetry collection 1919 and the nonfiction work Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side. Her first book, the poetry collection Electric Arches, received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year's best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She also currently writes the Champions series for Marvel Comics and previously wrote the acclaimed Ironheart series.

Dr. Ewing is also the 2020 Erickson – Hornberger Ethnography in Education Outstanding Book Awardee and is presenting at the Forum. Click here for more information. 

Matthew Hartley is Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. His research and writing focus on how colleges and universities are governed, how they define their educational purposes, and the role universities play in strengthening democracy and creating open societies. 

Dr. Hartley serves as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. He is also the founding Executive Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at Penn GSE. He has served on the editorial board of the Review of Higher Education and the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement. He earned his master's and doctorate from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Dr. Hartley serves as a trustee at Widener University in Chester, PA and at Abai Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Dr. Hartley's current work, in partnership with his colleague Professor Alan Ruby, is seeking to hold up models of institutional excellence that counter the "world class university" model, the pursuit of which requires the allocation of enormous resources. Profiling institutions in a number of national settings-Bangladesh, Chile, India, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Rwanda, and the United States-the project shows how institutions are defining excellence on their own terms and engaging in remarkable work that is leading to student success in underserved populations and supporting their wider communities. The project is supported by a grant from the Qatar Foundation.

Baktiar Choudhury

Senior, University of Pennsylvania; YCER Alumnus

Cara McClellan

Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Baktiar is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He has a strong interest in choice behavior and behavioral economics, and will be working in market-research post graduation. He has worked with the Graduate School of Education since his time at Central High School.

Cara McClellan is an Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Cara served as a law clerk for judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the United States District Court for the District of Delaware after graduating with honors from Yale College, receiving an Master of Education from Penn Graduate School of Education and a J.D. from Yale Law School.




The Youth Civic Engagement Research Project & Social Inquiry for Social Justice


The Youth Civic Engagement Research Project (YCER) was created in 2015 as part of a research study with a small core of Philadelphia high school youths and through the collaboration of Dr. Vivian Gadsden and doctoral students, Samiha Rahman and Wintre Foxworth Johnson (currently university professors).  YCER aims to: 

  • Learn about youths' attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge regarding civic engagement, racial and social inequality, and political participation
  • Co-construct a theory of change that can support communities in Philadelphia and elsewhere. 


In 2015, when the study was initiated, high school youths in Philadelphia were protesting proposed massive reorganization and school closings in the district and the uncertain future for public schools and families in high-poverty neighborhoods. In expressing their concerns about the school closings, the youths demonstrated their broad base of knowledge and a deep understanding of the ways in which they and their communities would be affected. Their actions reflected a form of civic engagement, resistance, and commitment to social justice ideals. We were curious about what motivated these and other youths' sense of agency, sociopolitical perspectives, and civic identity and interested in how these and other youths, particularly youth of color and in urban settings, might reflect on their school and classroom civic experiences in this regard. 


The current project consists of two parts. The first is a survey that was conducted with 300 Philadelphia high school youths regarding their attitudes and understandings of issues of civic engagement, race, and the politics. The second, Social Inquiry for Social Justice, focuses on students' voices-e.g., writing, reading, and discussing issues that engage youths about topics of importance to them and that reflect their emerging knowledge of political processes, sources and uses of knowledge, and perceptions of barriers and incentives to civic and political participation. High school youths from Philadelphia, Indiana, Tennessee, Hawaii, and Swaziland (Southern Africa) participate in Social Inquiry for Social Justice activities. The 25 youths in the current cohort of YCER represent a subset of students who completed the survey. 


Youths participating in the Social Inquiry for Social Justice Group meet weekly and biweekly online to share sociopolitical perspectives on local educational and social issues. Youths address their multiple literacies within the context of civic engagement, student protests, and social resistance. With support from mentor-collaborators (graduate students in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education), YCER Social Inquiry youths are initiating culturally focused, community-based projects aimed at addressing a persistent need, problem, or area of possibility in their community or in the city. Through their projects, the youths are focusing on a range of topics: colorism, diversity in special admissions schools, the treatment of Black girls, trauma, community healing, food insecurity and health, mutual aid efforts, homelessness, adult and youth incarceration, immigration, the environment, and social media access.  


The YCER Project-Social Inquiry for Social Justice Group focuses on the evolution and emerging narratives of engaged, urban high school youths, participating in an intergenerational, interdisciplinary program of study. It builds on the power that young people possess and bring to supporting their communities, aiming to make a difference through civic engagement, critical discussions, and efforts to promote equality, equity, and justice. Our goal is to create a space and opportunities for youths to engage in discussions and work that will enhance their knowledge, build their academic abilities, and make a difference in their lives and in their communities. The activities and ideas regarding where we want to be and how we will get there will be determined collaboratively by participants in the project.



University of Pennsylvania-based Research Team: 

Dr. Vivian L. Gadsden, Project Director

OreOluwa Badaki, Project Co-Coordinator 

Daris McInnis, Project Co-Coordinator

Gordon Dee Asaah 

Rabani Garg 

Giuliana de Grazia 

Sarah Horwitz 

Gabrielle Morales 

Maritza Moulite 

Ericka-Graciel Staufert 

Dr. Mary Yee, Project Consultant

The Community Literacies Project


The Community Literacies Project (CLP) is a community-based research project, which has had a ten year-long partnership between families of South Philadelphia, faculty of two universities-the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), and Columbia's Teachers College-and graduate students from Penn GSE. The project has linked parents, children, middle and high school age youth, and community leaders from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds to research together issues of educational equity and access with a focus on critical literacy.


Over the years, the Community Literacies Project has crafted an intellectual legacy based on an ethos of caring, literacies of interdependence, collective and intergenerational knowledge, and epistemic privilege. By the latter, it is meant that the work of this inquiry community is based on the fact that marginalized voices hold the privilege of being the most adequate to theorize about the inequities and injustices they experience within the educational system. The community acts as a collective when all decisions moving forward and regarding the organization of the research work are made collectively and by listening to every member's interests, opinions, and doubts. The youth researchers' ages range from four years old to elders, and they come together to embrace their differences and support each other in their individual lifepaths and educational trajectories. Lastly, a fundamental of this research project is that no individual flourishes unless we all flourish.


Youths participating in CLP have focused their work on a number of issues related to educational equity. Among the topics are the role that creativity and aesthetics play in youth's negotiations of identity, addressing barriers to language access in middle schools, making Advanced Placement classes available to all students, transnational girls' civic engagement, the meaning of success for youths and its relationship to their agency and identities, the college access process, and literacy as liberation.


The Project has publicly shared its research via several venues, including publications in peer-reviewed journals written collaboratively by high school age youth and university researchers. Work from the project has also been shared through presentations the youths have made at neighborhood gatherings, and at national educational conferences such as the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research, the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Education Research Association, and the Ethnography in Education Research Forum. In addition, the community hopes to expand the impact of its work through a documentary film and a website, both currently being completed.


The future goals of CLP include developing professional development opportunities to engage the families' perspectives in dialogue with teachers, school administrators, and educational leaders as well as co-writing a book along with children, youth, and parents that can also serve for practitioners' professional development.


University of Pennsylvania-based Research Team


Dr. Gerald Campano, Project Director

Dr. Maria Ghiso, Project Director

Gordon Divine (Dee) Asaah

Ericka-Graciel Staufert

Ankhi Guha Thakurta

The Youth Voices Project


The Youth Voices Project is a community-based Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) initiative that supports culturally diverse youth in a subsidized housing community in the U.S. Midwest in examining issues of importance to them and taking action to enact change. The Project started in the Fall of 2019 after Joanne Marciano, a faculty member in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, and Lillian Holloway, the housing community's youth director, met to consider possibilities for developing and researching literacy programming that addressed educational disparities experienced by youth of color or those experiencing limited socioeconomic opportunities. Together, Joanne and Lillian discussed possibilities for collaborating to support students participating in the Achievers Program (a pseudonym), a college readiness and access program offered to middle and high school students in the community. After several meetings, they decided to engage students in a YPAR initiative, The Youth Voices Project.


Throughout the Fall 2019 semester, youth and adult collaborators, including the university-based research team, met at the property's community center weekly for two-hour long meetings where youth learned about research methods and formed two research teams to examine issues they considered relevant to their lives: increasing safety for children and teenagers living in the community; and understanding how children and teenagers in the community experienced access to participation in organized sports. The youth collected and analyzed data related to their research questions, presented findings of their research in December 2019 during a public event at the community center, and made recommendations for addressing the issues they examined in their research. In Spring 2020, the youth worked to take action in support of their recommendations until social distancing necessitated by COVID-19 led to the closure of the community center where weekly meetings of the project were held.


At the request of the youth, meetings of The Youth Voices Project transitioned online in March 2020 and youth shifted the focus of their YPAR projects to address the immediate needs of their community in response to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Since that time, the youth have: raised $7,500 through a Go Fund Me initiative to assist residents in paying utility bills, purchasing groceries, and obtaining personal needs items; developed and facilitated an online summer College Ambassadors Program for their peers; and shared with local school officials their insights about the challenges students in their community are experiencing as a result of online learning due to COVID-19. Currently, the youth are designing community literacy projects to increase awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout their culturally and racially diverse housing community.


The Youth Voices Project is supported by funding from the AERA Education Research Service Project (ERSP) Initiative, the AERA Division K Re-envisioning Teaching and Teacher Education in the Shadow of the COVID-19 Pandemic (RTTE) small grants program, and the Michigan State University College of Education, and the Michigan College Access Network.

The Youth Voices Project Research Team

Dr. Joanne E. Marciano, Asst. Professor of English Education, Michigan State University 

Lillian Holloway, community-based youth director 

Lauren Elizabeth Reine Johnson, Doctoral student, Michigan State University 

Victoria Mims, community-based AmeriCorps VISTA 

Lee Melvin Peralta, Doctoral student, Michigan State University 

Hannah Rosemurgy, Student Teaching Intern, Michigan State University 

Alecia Beymer, Doctoral student, Michigan State University

Ji Soo Lee, Doctoral student, Michigan State University


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