Youth Institute Will Support Youth Toward Scholarship, Service, and Education

Associate Professor Nancy Deutsch received a $59,500 seed grant from the Jefferson Trust to initiate planning for a new pan-University Institute for Engaged Youth. The grant was one of 18 awards totaling $775,000, given by the Jefferson Trust to University groups.

“This initiative builds upon and modernizes Jefferson’s vision of educating young people for engaged citizenship— that is, this initiative recognizes the large diversity of youth today and their sophistication, and seeks to bring together scholarship, service, and education towards supporting societies to promote youth’s inherent strengths,” Deutsch said.

“It’s not about turning youth into engaged citizens, she said, because they are already engaged.” Rather it is about creating institutions, policies, and practices that support them in that engagement. “When you look at movements like Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, Dreamers, said Deutsch. “These are fueled by young people and that’s a form of citizenship.”

According to a United Nations Department of Economic Affairs report, in 2015 there were 1.2 billion youth in the world aged 15-24 years with estimates of that number growing about 7% by 2030. Deutsch sees one of the roles of the initiative would be to understand more about this expanding group and to promote youth citizenship in the modern world. 

But opinions differ on how to best harness this steadily growing and energetic population. Deutsch cited a recent New York Times article which argued that the world had too many youth from underdeveloped countries which was creating potential problems. “This isn’t a problem,” she said. “This is an opportunity. There aren’t too many youth, there are too few opportunities,” said Deutsch.

Creating these opportunities could come through a variety of activities, she said. “From analysis of global policies that affect youth, to leadership training institutes for youth from around the globe, to partnerships between UVA students and local communities creating solutions and support in response to issues facing youth,” she said.

In addition, the institute will likely have a number of areas of focus, some of which emerged from a town hall that was held in the spring. These include marginalization and social justice; relationships and social belonging; settings, contexts and institutions; resilience, resistance, protest, change, and adaptation; and a holistic approach to the body and mind. The institute also plans to hold a transdisciplinary speaker series to help coalesce the vision.

The institute will involve a transdisciplinary collaboration of faculty from around the University, which Deustch said will help it realize the breadth of it’s vision. It will include faculty from the Schools of Nursing, Architecture, Law, Medicine, the Batten School, the Curry School, and multiple departments and centers in the College of Arts and Sciences, including Psychology, Sociology, Media Studies, Politics, and the Institute for Advanced Studies and Culture. “It takes this kind of diversity to both understand the complex issues involved in contemporary youth development and to engage youths’ energy proactively. “In order to create social systems and societies which give youth opportunities, it takes all disciplines.”

Ultimately, Deutsch sees the institute benefiting those doing youth-centered work who collaborate with people from other disciplines. “Anyone wishing to use a competencies based approach about engaging youth and helping promote their abilities to make positive change in their worlds.”

Deutsch says this is all very much aligned with UVA, a public institution that was meant to educate future citizens.

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