College Access was a youth participatory action research project that consisted of seven workshop sessions with thirty high school students from all over Philadelphia. Our students attended a wide arrange of schools including elite boarding schools, top public schools, and charter schools. The first half of the workshops were dedicated to teaching the students how to navigate the college admissions process. The second part of the workshops were dedicated to doing participatory action research with the students on the inequalities of the college admission process and college in general. In the fourth week we split the students into research teams based on their interests so that they could research specific social justice issues related to college. The teams ended up researching mental health, financial aid, race, and sexual harassment.
Below I will list some of the specific questions we had for our research and some of my takeaways.
1. What are the critical theories that can help students address issues of equity and social justice in curriculum?
Some of the most important theories that the students took away from our lessons were cultural capital, cultural wealth, transformative resistance, epistemic privilege. A lot of students noted cultural wealth and epistemic privilege as their takeaway from the program.
These four theories were a huge focus for the race and identity group in particular. They even gave a recap of these theories before discussing their data findings. They did so because they used these theories as the lens through which they interpreted their data.
2. How can we create a community that traverses masters/undergraduate/community-based organization to build solidarity; bring together Juntos, St. Thomas Aquinas. Penn GSE, undergrad, Masters, community college.
We did this in college access program by introducing the students to the world of academia and showing them that research is not a nuanced thing but something that anyone can do, and something that they can especially do using their epistemic privilege. For example, when discussing their takeaways, one of our students said that research was something that she wasn’t that bad at doing and something she’d hope to continue doing. Another student also noted that even though further findings can get in the way of you answering your original question that that’s okay because that just means that you have to do more research. This showed how much she wasn’t intimidated by research.
3. How do/don’t people cooperate across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries to advocate and understand for college access and equity? Who does have knowledge about this topic? How is collective knowledge built?
By the end of the programs, the students in my group were collaborating without any hesitation. In the beginning they seemed shy and were scared of hopping in to help one of their teammates, to contribute, or to ask questions. Through this they were also able to go outside of their comfort zones and share their own knowledge/experiences and learn from each other.