Much research and scholarship has been dedicated to understanding the way trauma, such as social injustice and systemic inequality, affects people. When this type of research is used to disrupt the social status quo or restore power to marginalized groups it is called social justice research. However, history shows that research may also further oppress groups and maintain systemic inequality when the people effected don’t have a voice in the results.
Quantitative data on ACEs and ASSETS tell a story. Using data from Monroe County’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, ASSETS have been identified that moderate the risks associated with high ACE scores. From this quantitative work, researchers learned that young people need to feel they (A) matter to their community, (B) have a non-parental adult they can turn to for support, and (C) feel encouragement at school. However, while these are helpful findings, they also lead to additional questions, such as: How do youth define community? What does it look like to “matter” to a community? What kind of encouragement is most helpful? And how do you know an adult is supportive?
Qualitative methods, such as asking open ended questions, help us to both recognize the power in unique narratives and give a voice to often silenced communities. Qualitative work can also minimize the imposition of researcher assumptions, frame communication, and disseminate research outcomes in ways that are immediately useful to the communities involved. Within a Youth Voices project, we are striving to hear the narratives of youth in Monroe County.
Here are some of the things we have learned from our work, represented by the voices of the Monroe County Spreading Wellness Around Town (S.W.A.T.) Youth Council:
Listening Matters– Sometimes young people want adults to “shut up and listen”. Young people understand that adults are busy and have hard jobs, especially teachers, but they do not want to feel brushed aside or tokenized. Young people know that it can be difficult for adults to hear a young person is struggling. By listening to a young person and validating their feelings the young person is heard and may be more willing to seek support in the future.
Positive Feedback is Lacking– Stigmatizing threats aren’t helpful. There is already so much shame and stigma associated when mental health impacts a young person’s ability to meet expectations. Encourage the good things that the young person is doing instead of focusing on the deficits.
Young people want to help us– Young people are the ones directly impacted by the way our programs and systems run. They want their opinions to not only be heard but implemented! Young people want to use their own experiences to inform and improve the way things are run for future young people.