Two University of Utah faculty have designed and will teach a youth leadership course for West Salt Lake high school students beginning this month and running weekly until May. The 14-week course, Mestizo Arts and Activism Project, is the first course offered through Westside Leadership Institute (WLI) specifically designed for youth. The course is based on a participatory action research model that will engage young people as youth researchers using the arts as part of the research process and as a way to engage their community.
Dr. Caitlin Cahill, assistant professor of community studies in the department of family and consumer studies, and Matt Bradley, Honors College, envision this course as infusing art, activism, and research into youth directed and determined projects. Cahill said the course will provide students with a history of activism and its connection to the arts. Local artists will share their journeys of community engagement through their art, she explained. Other artists will host workshops on mediums the youth themselves are interested in learning. Cahill noted that interests currently range from spoken word to photography and from documentary to abstract art. Issues important to the high school students also will drive the trajectory of the course. Cahill said many participants are concerned about access to higher education-particularly for undocumented students-as well as issues of equity, transportation, environmental concerns, integration, drugs, teen sex, and social issues about what it means to be a teenager.
The 18 students will complete about three team projects, with each culminating in an event or occasion that engages the public with their art, Cahill said.
“By learning to do field research and interviews, to develop topic areas and research questions, to negotiate collectively, to understand the purpose and audience of research, and to come up with an appropriate research design, all the while maintaining an emphasis on action and community engagement will take these students on a personal and community journey that will lead them to see themselves as youth researchers,” Cahill said.
For Cahill and Bradley, their academic interest lies in documenting the process and concerns of the youth research team during the span of this course. In addition, two undergraduate research assistants will help coordinate and facilitate the course, while also conducting their own research project, said Cahill.
The 18 West High School students were screened from an initial applicant pool of 40. They will attend an orientation at UNP on January 19. Classes begin on January 23 and will be held Monday and Wednesdays from 3:00pm to 5:00pm until May 14 at NeighborWorks (formerly Salt City Neighborhood Housing Services) at 622 West 500 North, which is within walking distance from West High. Students will earn three college credits through the University of Utah’s Continuing Education (worth $600) and receive a $200 stipend for participating in the after school course.
Partners include UNP, WLI, Neighborhood Works, and the Mestizo Institute for Art & Culture. Several other University faculty and students serve as partners as well. The Lowell Bennion Public Service Professorship award will help to fund the course. Students enrolled in Cahill’s course Youth Participation in a Globalizing World will provide support to the youth researchers in the form of community needs assessments or policy analysis, dependent on the students’ interest. In addition, Dr. Beth Krensky’s students in her Art in the Community class may help to lead some of the art workshops.
The WLI is an initiative of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) that offers leadership workshops to west Salt Lake residents taught by University of Utah faculty and community leaders. UNP bridges Utah’s flagship university, with seven ethnically and culturally rich neighborhoods west of State Street in mutually-beneficial ways for both west side residents and the University of Utah community.