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The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

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  • Could A Game Based On Columbine Promote Anti-Violence?

    by Youth Radio Interns


    A scene from the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! video game (Photo courtesy of Danny Ledonne)
    When Vanessa and I first heard about Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, a game enabling players to act as the Columbine school shooters, we thought, “WHAT?”
    After all, what kind of crazy person would make — or play — a game where the point is to go to school, plant bombs, carry out a massacre … and ultimately commit suicide in the library?
    Growing up in the post-Columbine world, we have been through more active shooter drills than we can count and fear for our lives every time we hear the alarm. Could you imagine someone making a game like this about Parkland? Sandy Hook? Virginia Tech?
    Nope!
    We were actually sick to our stomachs prepping to interview the game’s creator. But at the same time, we were definitely curious. So we sat down with Danny Ledonne, who made the free, downloadable game in 2005 in his early twenties.
    But as we talked to him, we started to realize he’s not as twisted as you might think…
    This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

    Why was Columbine so important to you that you had to make a game about it?
    I was a sophomore at another Colorado high school at the time of the shooting at Columbine. So that really forced me to think about what was going on in my life. … Before Columbine, I had had violent and angry thoughts about hurting myself or hurting other people. I think a lot of young men go through that struggle. I imagine young women as well. So that really forced me to think about what was going on in my life.
    A scene from the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! video game (Photo courtesy of Danny Ledonne)
    The game seems to point to bullying as one of the motives for the shooters. How did their stories resonate with you?
    In the months that followed [Columbine], there was quite a bit of criticism of Marilyn Manson and video games like Doom and Mortal Kombat — things that I was interested in. But there was also not a lot of opportunity for me as a teenager to assert what I thought might be more relevant to consider, issues like bullying in schools or social isolation.
    I experienced a considerable amount of bullying growing up. I was always the shortest kid in class and I think that sometimes that made me an easy target … so there was this discomfort of realizing that that other kids are also bullied. The shooters at Columbine … basically developed this kind of inner sense of vengeance that they couldn’t apparently find another way to resolve.
    I don’t think it’s helpful to to demonize and ostracize people further and to say, “They are pure evil. They did the work of Satan,” and not being willing to actually understand what led these two young men to the point that this happened in their lives.
    *EDITOR’S NOTE: Bullying was originally and widely believed to have been a key motive behind the massacre, but experts have largely debunked that theory. Read here and here for more info.
    What were some of the more extreme reactions you got from people who played or heard about the game?
    The most extreme reactions I tended to get were from people that never played the game. So then I will get a reaction like, “How could you do this? This is the most sick thing ever! You must be doing this for attention or to make money!”
    I certainly have gotten death threats over the years, which is a little bit strange if you think about making a game that is in response to bullying and violence, and the critics of this game think that bullying and violence are the best way to respond to you for having made it.
    A scene from the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! video game (Photo courtesy of Danny Ledonne)
    I had never seen the game until a few days ago, and I would say the game play itself is not incredibly violent or gory. But as someone who grew up with a constant fear of school shootings, the idea of the game is still deeply disturbing to me.
    A shooting is a disturbing subject for a game… It’s a difficult topic, but we shouldn’t condemn or we shouldn’t shy away from engaging work that is disturbing. That emotional experience, that intellectual endeavor, is an important one.
    What do you say to the friends or families of Columbine victims who say, “What the hell? In this game, you can kill my family member or friend over and over again!”
    Yeah, I know that is that is certainly criticism of the game. I did not put the names of the victims anywhere in the game because I didn’t feel that it was an appropriate design choice. It wasn’t even getting at what I thought was important to understand because the shooters at Columbine didn’t have specific targets. For them it was an act of kind of random ideological terrorism and that’s a fine line to walk, and I’m not even sure I was completely successful at doing so.
    A scene from the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! video game (Photo courtesy of Danny Ledonne)
    But your game seems to empathize more with the shooters, rather than the people who were killed in the shooting?
    Yeah, the game definitely has an empathetic aspect to the two shooters at Columbine. There is no denying that. I also don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing because we have to remember that Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold] were students at their high school just like everyone else. We need to acknowledge that Columbine created and helped shape Eric and Dylan.
    So for the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and the next national school walkout against gun violence, I wanted to talk about a little bit about how things have changed.
    So unfortunately with Columbine, the more things change, the more things have stayed the same. [But] I’m encouraged to see a new generation of young people kind of carry the torch forward and push for things that obviously my generation and my parents’ generation failed to do to address these issues.
    A scene from the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! video game (Photo courtesy of Danny Ledonne)

  • 13 Stories To Remind Us That Gun Violence Is About More Than School Shootings

    by Teresa Chin


    April 20, 2018 is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, during which two teens shot and killed 13 people and injured 21 others at their Colorado high school before turning their weapons on themselves.
    To mark the anniversary, students at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut are organizing a national school walkout at 9:50 a.m. They will stay silent for one minute in honor of all victims of gun violence, followed by 13 seconds of silence for each of the Columbine victims.
    Teens today live in a post-Columbine world — Gen Zers were born after 1999 have spent their entire childhoods practicing for active shooter drills and hearing about one school shooting after another. But for many young people, that’s not the primary kind of gun violence that keeps them up at night and affects their lives. Community and police-driven gun violence hit hard for teens in urban areas, many of whom have lost family members, friends, or classmates to shootings.
    Here at Youth Radio, we’ve been covering urban and community gun violence for decades. So whether you’re preparing for a day of service or 13 seconds of silence to remember Columbine, consider these 13 stories too.





  • Bot or Bully? How To Tell And What To Do About It

    by Noah Nelson


    Teresa Chin/Youth Radio
    Let’s face it: life online can be pretty toxic.
    The craziest part is that you can have no idea if you’re dealing with a real person, a professional troll, or a bot.
    We wanted to give you some tips on how to deal with bots, bullies, and other online jerks, but we didn’t want to be basic about it. So along with some of our own hard-earned lessons, we asked for help from Rohan Phadte and Ash Bhat of RoBhat Labs. These two go to UC Berkeley and made a name for themselves — we’re talking profiles in Wired and TED Teen Talks —  by coming up with tools to identify bots online and track President Trump’s Executive Actions in their spare time.

    Bots, Trolls: What’s The Difference?
    Both bots and trolls can be pains to deal with, but only one of them is “real” in the “person” sense. The RoBhat Labs guys say “political propaganda bots [are] accounts that exhibit a level of automation on their Twitter accounts and spread polarized misinformation.” Which means they’re just cranking out nonsense. So here are some tell-tale signs that can help you ID a bot versus your run-of-the-mill troll.


    Bots post a lot. Like, A LOT. Go to the account’s profile page and look up how many tweets they put out divided by the number of days the account has been active. If it looks like the account is tweeting hundreds of times per day, chances are it’s a bot. “Automated accounts often tweet out every few minutes,” said Phadte, “even during the off hours of their stated location.”


    Bots are relentless. Both can behave badly, but the way to spot a bot is that it’s relentless. Like The Terminator. Although not nearly as cool. If an account never EVER gives up or stops, it may be run by a bot.


    Bot profiles start out shouting. Go to the account profile and look at the earliest tweets you can find. According to Poynter, “A bot will often begin its life shamelessly selling ideas or products right away.”


    The bottom line is that troll accounts can look pretty similar to bots. So even with these tips in mind, you may have trouble deciphering the difference. The good news is that you can use online tools such as Botcheck.me, a Chrome extension created by Rohan and Ash that uses machine learning to identify bots.

    How many bots are out there, anyway?
    “It’s really difficult to make this estimate,” said Phadte. “Others have put numbers out there, but the number of bots on the platform does not tell the full story and underestimates their impact on social media. Due to their automation, bots often tweet out much more often than human users. We’ve seen some bots that tweet out nearly every minute throughout the day. This inundates the social network and amplifies an originally small subset of voices, and so their presence is much bigger than the number of bots may initially suggest.”
    Think of it this way: you know your chatty friend? The one who won’t stop blowing up your phone? Imagine that’s all they ever did: but to the whole internet. Even just a few accounts like that can have a “yuge” impact, if you know what we mean.
     
    Okay, but how big a deal are bots really?
    “We believe that these political propaganda bots have really polarized our social media platforms,” said Phadte. “We see instances of bots on both sides of the political spectrum, creating a divide on the platform. Bots have really created echo chambers where people are falling into confirmation bias.”
    That whole “confirmation bias” thing is no joke. With an army of bots backing up a real person’s argument, they can feel invincible: even if they have just a handful of real followers.  
     
    So what do we do about trolls?
    Okay, so here’s where tech can’t help you as much as a little logic and some old-school philosophy can.
    If someone challenges you online, and you’ve checked that they’re not a bot, and you’re still tempted to win an online argument, ask yourself this: are they arguing from bad faith? That is: are they arguing just to score points? To make you feel bad? Are they listening at all, or are you talking past each other? Check their feed: is this something they do all the time?  
    Do this before you start arguing because life is too short to argue with strangers for the sake of arguing.
    That, after all, is what trolls do.
    If you’ve done your checks and have a clear conscience on calling someone out for crossing harassment lines, bullying, and generally being an unrepentant jerk in your mentions: that’s great. Just be mindful about what you’re getting into. Trolls travel in packs, with bots often backing them up. They rely on intimidation. You don’t owe trolls your time, so if do address them, do it on your terms. (And remember that mute and block are your friends, with “mute” being a sly tool.)
     
    Is there an upside to arguing with bots or trolls?
    We’re not gonna lie: some people just enjoy arguing. Others turn the tables on trolls and bots and use the attacks to make themselves look good. In the short run that can feel awesome, and maybe get you some new followers. There’s a long game here though, one that we all pay a price for,  and we’ll let the RoBhat Labs guys have the last word:
    “We believe the purpose behind these bots is to create a political divide and amplify echo chambers of political ideas – arguing may not be productive.”

  • Three Founders of The Good Work Project Named Among Most Influential Psychologists

    by Howard Gardner


    Howard Gardner, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, the three founders of the Good Work Project, have been recognized among the fifty most influential living psychologists in an online ranking by TheBestSchools.org.
    Howard Gardner comments below on this news.
    Generally speaking, I pay little attention to rankings. To be sure, it’s nice to be ranked higher, rather than lower. But I am sufficiently familiar with the process to know that one can easily finagle the ratings; and that they are, at best, a very imperfect index of quality, however scrupulously they are assembled and displayed.
    That said, I was pleased to see the list of “The 50 Most Influential Living Psychologists in the World” as determined by The Best Schools. On that list were my close colleagues Mihaly (Mike) Csikszentmihalyi and William (Bill) Damon, and me.
    In 1994-1995, the three of us had the privilege of full-year fellowships at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. And it was there that we conceived of a ten year project—a study of the professions—which came to be called “The Good Work Project.” That project yielded ten books, scores of articles, and various tools for the workplace. Until this day, almost a quarter of a century later, we each continue our own work in the spirit of the original project—in my case, under the title “The Good Project.”
    I am pleased to thank the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences for enabling this collaboration and to salute Mike and Bill, my close colleagues and friends—now recognized as  “influential psychologists.”
    Howard Gardner
    To learn more about this work, please visit TheGoodProject.org.

  • Yes, Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance Was Historic. That’s Not Why We’re Still Talking About It

    by Teresa Chin


    Young black artists Clay Xavier and Kaylahni Lacy react to Beyoncé’s epic Coachella performance.

  • 10 Haikus About How Teens REALLY Use Social Media

    by Teresa Chin


    Whether you love, hate, or LIVE social media, there’s something… poetic… about how much effort we put into our online lives. So we asked one of our interns, Angel Collins, to compose a series of haikus about how teens REALLY use social media.
    The result feels true…. maybe a little too true.


     
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • Opinion: Student Councils Can Be About A Lot More Than Prom

    by Noah Nelson


    California State Capitol Building, Sacramento, California. By Christopher Padalinski [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsArvin Hariri is the governmental affairs policy director of the California Association of Student Councils.
    Right about now your school’s student government is probably busy organizing its latest and greatest dance.
    The planning committee has begun reserving the venue, allocating decorations, and even getting a local band involved. It’s important work, but for most student governments, this is also it. Everything. This is where student voices come to die, always to remain lost in translation.
    If that’s what passes for civic engagement, is it any wonder that only 8 percent of eligible Californians aged 18 to 24 turned out to the polls in the 2014 midterms?
    For the past 71 years, the California Association of Student Councils (CASC) has been a real solution to the youth voter apathy deeply embedded into our society.
    Picture a place where students work tirelessly to develop real policy proposals. Imagine that instead of talking to a brick wall, students actually get feedback from the Senate/Assembly Joint Committee on Education, and create real, tangible bills. Bills that are signed into law by the governor, who credits the students for making a difference.
    That place is real, and it is the Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education: run entirely by the students of CASC.
    While school administrators sit behind closed doors, making life-altering decisions for students with little student input, that should not deter us. If anything, it should enrage us and envigorate us into amplifying our voices.
    It’s time we decide whether student government is a dance-planning committee, or a legitimate civic body. The California Association of Student Councils made its decision over 71 years ago, so when will you make yours?

  • Youth Radio Honored With 2018 Gracie Award

    by Noah Nelson


    Source: Alliance for Women in Media
    Youth Radio is proud to announce its latest award for student-led reporting.
    The series “That’s When My Childhood Ended” has been honored with a 2018 Gracie Award for News Feature – Non Commercial by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation, which recognizes “exemplary programming created by women, for women and about women in all facets of media and entertainment.” Youth Radio is joined by fellow 2018 Gracie Award winners “60 Minutes,” CNN, ABC News, VICE News, and more.
    In this four-part series, a team of young women report from across America. Going inside high schools where young people grapple with the effects of teen suicide, sexual harassment, and racism, Valencia White, Charlie Stuip, Zola Cervantes, and Sasha Armbrester take you beyond the political upheaval around immigration to reveal how the system falls short — particularly for young women.

    In 13 Reasons Why Not: One High School Confronts Teen Suicide … Over The Intercom, Valencia White reports on the impact the popular and controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why — which sparked national conversation about teen suicide — had on the Oxford High School campus in Oxford, Michigan, where two students died by suicide in recent years.

     

    Long before #MeToo became a trending topic, Youth Radio deployed a team that spent four months investigating sexual violence complaints involving high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and metro Atlanta, and analyzed federal-level data for this in-depth report by Charlie Stuip. The result: Why are High Schools Beefing Up Their Sexual Assault Policies? Pressure from Teens.

     

    The toll that America’s deportation program takes on families is the theme of Zola Cervantes’ personal essay With A Deported Father, California Teen Lives Life Between Borders. Cervantes, a reporter with Youth Radio partner Boyle Heights Beat, reveals the adult responsibilities she stepped into to support her mother (abruptly thrust into single-parenthood) as well as the pain she endures being separated from her father who was deported to Mexico when she was a child. Produced by Youth Radio in collaboration with Boyle Heights Beat.


     

    Finally in I’m A Cheerleader, Here’s Why I Take A Knee, Sasha Armbrester reveals why she and her fellow cheerleaders started taking a knee at her school in Union City, California, and continued to do so, even when football players stood, and despite pushback from parents and some members of the community.

     
    Taken together, this series reveals what it means to be a young woman at a profoundly polarized moment in America.
    Check out the links below to listen to and read these stories by and about young women who are determined to step up in a deeply flawed world, and see more of Youth Radio’s award-winning reporting on the Awards page.

  • Looking For A Job As An International Student? Here Are 5 Pieces of Advice

    by Noah Nelson


    Image: Brenda Gottsabend (Flickr)
    Finding internships as a college student is difficult, and finding an internship as an international college student is even more challenging. I’m an international student from The Bahamas going to Saint Leo University in Florida, and I’ve wondered whether my own immigration status will automatically rule me out of internships. Trust me. I know the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing that certain companies are not interested in hiring me.
    I talked to Lou Paris, a professor at Stetson University in Florida (and a former international student himself) for insight. He wrote a book, titled Konkeros 2018: An International Student’s Guide to Finding Employment in the US, and has a platform to help students research companies that offer sponsorships.
    From our conversation, here are five pieces of advice for other international students on finding the right internship for your career goals.
    1. Brace Yourself
    Be prepared to go on this journey of tons of rejections, especially from companies that don’t hire international students and aren’t willing to offer sponsorship. And start early.  
    Lou Paris: “Often, international students come to me at a point where they have already completed their degrees, they are already half way through their OPT (Optional Practical Training), and there is little that I can do to help…on things they should have done months, if not years, ago.”

    2. Get Informed as Early as Possible
    International Students, on the F1 visa, are limited in how they can work. First year students can’t work off campus. After that, three types of off-campus employment are allowed: Curricular Practical Training (CPT); Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion); and  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT). Each of these employment options have requirements and restrictions.
    In short: it’s complicated. I recommend that you speak to your international student advisor/counselor to learn more about your options available. Paris advises international students to speak to an immigration lawyer, and do so early.
    Lou Paris:  “Ideally, you should be engaging an immigration attorney in your first year as a freshman. It may sound like overkill, but it really isn’t…because an immigration attorney from the beginning – from your freshman year – can help you assess what you may qualify for, not only now but in the future. They may be able to give you a path, or a blueprint, of the things that should be happening during your school years for you to build a better immigration profile for the time you graduate.”
    3. Be Careful With Applications
    One time, when I was filling out an online application, I was faced with typical immigration questions: “Are you legally authorized to work?” and “Do you now or in the future require sponsorship?” I clicked ‘next’ after giving what I thought were the proper answers and the application immediately ended stating that I was not qualified. You have to be careful and clear when dealing with forms.
    Lou Paris:  “If you are answering questions about your immigration status or your current situation on paper, for example on an application, you have to answer truthfully: answer the question exactly as intended. One caveat there is that if you are applying for an internship, and you are only working for that company during the internship and they ask if you need sponsorship, the obvious answer is no because you are only there for an internship.”
    4. You Have To Network
    Don’t wait until junior year to network. Do it early on in your studies, preferably freshman year. Do it with everyone – academic advisors, international student counselors, career services staff, alumni associations. Think of it like investing: the value you put in now will pay of years later.  

    Lou Paris:  “I recommend to international students to focus your job search not so much on direct applications. I ask them instead to focus on networking. I say this because every time questions about immigration come up in an application, chances are you are being automatically ruled out. You may think that there is a slight chance – even 1 percent chance – of getting that job, but in reality, your chances are dramatically reduced. So, with networking, you are basically looking for employment opportunities by creating a network of people that you meet within your desired career path of your industry. That is more effective.”
    5. Know Your Goal
    If you’re like me, you’ve wondered if you should apply for internships that don’t typically offer sponsorships just for the work experience, or whether to only apply for companies that offer sponsorships. After all, sponsorships are good, right?
    Paris suggested that both paths are valid, but students should know what their goal plan is – sponsored or not – when thinking about this. He also warned that big companies, those with recognizable names, are usually the ones that don’t offer sponsorships.
    Lou Paris:  “The profile of a company that typically hires foreign nationals and international students is very specific. They tend to be medium and small size companies. In fact, the median size of the company that hires international students is 39 employees. Think about how small that is.”
    Paris says that startups are more willing to employ international students since interns have more responsibilities in these companies; however, some startups are unstable, which means the company (and your) future can be unpredictable. If you’re looking for long-term employment sponsorship, that’s a risk to consider.
    As for me, I opened up my internship search to include companies that don’t typically offer sponsorships so I can gain experience and build up my resume. After I complete my CPT and OPT, and if I am not sponsored by a company, I plan to do my masters and see where that leads.

  • American Philosophical Society Publishes Jerome Bruner Memoir

    by Howard Gardner


    Howard Gardner’s memoir of Jerome Bruner, the pioneering cognitive psychologist who passed away at the age of 100 in 2016, has been published by the American Philosophical Society.
    In this reflection, Gardner provides an overview of Bruner’s life, work, and influence, including personal recollections. The essay appeared in the December 2017 of Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society.
    Click here to access the piece in full.

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