Social Justice, Civic and Political Engagement (2017)

The engagement of youth in communities, through both formal and informal civic and political activity, is critical to the continuation of civil society and to values of social justice and equity. Understanding the ways in which young people are engaging in this manner is crucial for informing both schools and out-of-school settings, and for drawing on the capacities of our youth to help engage us in solving the issues that they will be facing in the coming decades.

On Oct. 26-27 2017, the 6th Youth-Nex Conference, “Youth Act: Social Justice, Civic and Political Engagement,” provided a forum for educators, policy-makers, and practitioners across the country to focus on critical questions about a range of issues around youth civics activism and political engagement. The overall agenda of this conference remained constant in light of the events of August 11-12 in Charlottesville. The topics we had planned to cover remained critical in the aftermath. However, we added a special workshop described below and many panelists extended the focus of their talks as it directly related to the events in Charlottesville.


In 2016, we began planning our annual conference, which was to focus on youth political and civic engagement. At the time, we had no idea our town would become a focal point in the battle for racial justice. We had no idea that Charlottesville would become a hashtag.

Behind that hashtag is a tale of two youths.
On the one hand, #Charlottesville is the powerful tale of a group of young people coming together to fight racism, bigotry, White Supremacy, and hatred on their campus. A story of young people who saw what was coming and put their physical bodies on the line in the name of social justice. #Charlottesville is also the tale of a group of young adults so disaffected and disengaged from our civil society, that they had been influenced by extremist groups to take up a mantle of hate. One of these young people was so enraged and emboldened that he took the life of another innocent young person.

Conference Chairs: Valerie Adams-Bass, Ph.D., Chauncey Smith, Ph.D., with Nancy Deutsch, Ph.D.

Download the full PDF of the program.

Download the PDF of presenters' bios. 

SPECIAL WORKSHOP WAS ADDED - Facilitated by Association of Black Psychologists - Student Circle (ABPSISC).
"What Now? A Critical Conversation about Community Healing, Black Youth Engagement, Sociopolitical Context, and Policy"
The workshop offered a healing space for all, yet focused on the importance of an Afrocentric approach, amplifying voices of Black students. So while also thinking about allies and collaboration (Jewish, LGBTQ, among others) we focused on the roles of Black college students in activism on their campus and in their communities. We also discussed strategies to engage in activism on campus, strategies to balance academic demands with social engagement, and we emphasized the importance of engaging in self-care. We aimed to provide a healing space centered on undoing the residual psychological effects of white terrorism and internalized oppression in Black communities; and to provide recommendations to turn the feelings, thoughts, and insights into policy and action steps. 


  • Welcoming Remarks

    Nancy Deutsch, Youth-Nex Director; Robert Pianta, Dean, Curry School of Education; Conference Co-chairs: Valerie Adams-Bass, and Chauncey Smith

  • Conference Overview

    Panel 1: Connie Flanagan, Heang Ly, Barbara Ferman, with Nancy Deutsch

  • The Role of Civics Education

    Panel 2: Meg Heubeck, Diana Hess, John Hunter, with Rachel Wahl

  • Film Presentation: "Erasing Erasure"

    India Fenner, Stormy Kelsey from Temple University's Community Collaborative and POPPYN—Presenting our Perspective on Philly Youth News

  • Youth Political Engagement & Activism

    Panel 3: Nathaniel McLean-Nichols, Carrie Mays, Elan Hope, with Chauncey Smith

  • International Framework

    Panel 4: Judith Torney-Purta, Roderick Watts, Tafadzwa Tivaringe, Aaron Azelton, Gasper Gjeluci, Zin Min Thu, with Nancy Deutsch

  • Call to Action #1

    Zyahna Bryant (Student Activist); Devin Willis (UVA Student, Black Student Alliance), with Chauncey Smith

  • Integrating Youth Civic Engagement

    Panel 5: Jen Danifo, Erin Hoopes, Stormy Kelsey, India Fenner, Sharif El-Mekki, with Valerie Adams-Bass

  • Policy Approaches-Youth Civic Engagement

    Panel 6: Lisa Diaz, Jack Drummond, Aidyn Mills, Kian Thornton, with Valerie Adams-Bass

  • Call to Action #2

    Chauncey Smith


  • Two of Our Conference Chairs

    Valerie Adams-Bass & Chauncey Smith

  • Youth-Nex Director, Nancy Deutsch
  • Youth Voices Heard

    Carrie Mays was one of several youth presenters who were included in panels throughout the conference.

  • A Conference Focused on Discussions

    A "Q & A" session followed each panel.

  • Thought-Provoking Panels

    Six panels were organized around the conference's focus on social justice, civic and political engagement of youth.

  • Wide Range of Audience Members

    In addition to faculty, researcher, community, and youth attendees, several UVA classes sat in on panels.

  • The Arts Included

    Film presentation, "Erasing Erasure" moderated by Temple University Community Collaborative's POPPYN (Presenting our Perspective on Philly Youth News) members.

  • An Interactive Conference

    Karsten Kim, Curry Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) student, participates in a relationship-building exercise.

Media Coverage

Read the articles written about our conference below:

On the left, check out the buzz generated on Twitter by the conference, using #YouthAct17!

About Youth-Nex

Youth-Nex, The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, is a trans-disciplinary center that aims to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to address fundamental challenges facing societies around the world.