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Transformational experiences for practicum students with the Center for Social Justice Youth Development Research

The Center for Social Justice Youth Development Research (CSJYDR), based in the UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences, advances the research on social justice youth development by creating mechanisms to inform the professional development of youth workers and promote transformational change alongside marginalized and vulnerable youth and their communities.

Led by Aishia Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, the center recognizes that structural and systemic racism and oppression hinder the development of youth and young adults. CSJYDR takes a social justice youth development approach to its research to actively engage in resistance against white supremacy and foster transformational change in the field of youth development and beyond.

youth advisory boardLast semester, four UofL students completed their practicum at the center. These master’s students helped to lead the recruitment, development, and implementation efforts of the center's Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The purpose of the YAB is to cultivate youth-led educational endeavors addressing policies that impact youth, families, and communities of color for youth serving organizations and youth development professionals. Additionally, they assisted with the implementation of a photovoice project with the Collaborative Learning After School Program at Meyzeek Middle School.

Jenna Salins, who earned an MS in Social Work, explained that she started working with the center because she was seeking a challenging practicum. She explained that working with the center was appealing because she “loved the concept of integrating social justice lenses and the experience of youth and youth-serving providers.”

Salins and her fellow practicum students dedicated tremendous effort learning how to practice social justice youth development through youth-adult partnerships and critical consciousness building activities throughout the academic year. They worked with a diverse group of youth ranging from middle school through college, which appealed to Endia Moore, a recent MSSW graduate, who said, “I had previous experience working with youth and children and I read about the center when searching for a new practicum placement in the summer of 2021. I got to talk more with Dr. Bloomer about the center’s goals and visions and felt like it would be a good a chance to better understand what the youth want and need.”

csjydr gradationAsked to reflect on her experience mentoring practicum students, Dr. Brown said, “It was a wonderful academic year working alongside these students to expand the work of the center. Throughout our time together we worked diligently as a group to build a culture of self and collective care that helped us through challenges and triumphs. I am honored that I was given the opportunity to work with such a committed and passionate group of students.”

Dr. Brown also gave a special shoutout to Dr. Rebecka Bloomer, Research Manager and their practicum supervisor: “She was our anchor throughout this academic year despite juggling wrapping up her dissertation, graduating, and leading her own projects."

MSSW student, Stephanie Henry-Floyd also praised the center’s leadership team. She said, “My experience at the center was amazing! I’ve learned and grown a great deal under the supervision of both Dr. Bloomer and Dr. Brown they taught me so much from the importance of critical consciousness to self-care.”

The vital concept of redistribution of power was another idea that practicum students learned. One participant explained that they saw “youth experiencing a power shift that centers their voices and expertise.” She also learned from Dr. Brown how to disrupt the traditional power balance by recognizing her own values and skills.

Matthew D. Williams, BSW, described his experience with the center as “life changing.” He said, “Working at the center is the first job in my life where I've felt I can show up as 100% authentically myself. It is also the first workspace I've experienced that prioritizes self and collective care practices as well as community and relationship building, and I find that to be, not only extremely rewarding and fulfilling, but revolutionary.”

Jenna Salins, MSSW, explained how her practicum experience will have lasting impact: “My experience has been one I will continue to draw on in the duration of my professional career and personal values. . . . Not only was I challenged, but I was offered the opportunity to explore new ideas, make mistakes and learn from them, and work with peers that taught me so much about human beings and the world around us.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Center for Social Justice Youth Development Research, contact thecenter4sjyd@gmail.com.

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