YPP Network Description

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.

  • Your Most Awkward Questions About They/Them Pronouns, Answered

    by Teresa Chin

    People say the darnedest things about the singular “they.”
    When I tell someone that my preferred pronouns are they/them/their, I never know what to expect. Sometimes people say okay and move on, but other times, they’ll start to ask a whole bunch of questions that I don’t really feel like answering. It’s usually well intentioned; I get that people are just trying to understand. But I do get tired of explaining the same things over and over.
    So to save everyone (myself included) some time and confusion, I’ve rounded up some responses to the most common weird questions I get about my pronouns.

    Illustration by Desmond Meagley
    “You look like a boy/girl. Why use they instead of he/she?”
    I look like me. That’s all there is to it. If someone else looks at me and decides I am something or another based on the clothes I’m wearing, or whether or not I’m wearing make up, that assumption is on them: it has nothing to do with who or what I actually am.

    “You’re only one person! How does that work?”
    It’s really, really simple. In English, we already use singular “they” all the time when the gender of a person is unknown. Say you see fifty bucks on the ground and pick it up. You might say:
    “Oh, someone dropped their money here. I’ll set it aside for them, I bet they are looking everywhere!”
    Using “he or she” and “his or hers” in this situation is awkward and clunky, so we use singular they instead. When someone uses they/them pronouns, all you have to do is apply that same sentence construction:
    “Oh, Desmond dropped their money here. I’ll set it aside for them, I bet they are looking everywhere!”
    Now if only I could get fifty bucks every time someone’s rude about my gender. No, I’m kidding. Let’s move on.

    Illustration by Desmond Meagley
    “I’m fine with non-binary people, but I don’t believe in singular they pronouns. It makes no sense.”
    Not only are you on the wrong side of history, you’re on the wrong side of English, my friend.
    Major dictionaries have recognized singular they as grammatically correct for years, including the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, and dictionary.com. The word “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since at least the 16th century, and some argue it goes back even earlier. We’re not making new words and grammar up here. The AP Style Guide has even started to allow the usage of singular they in cases where a subject doesn’t identify as male or female.
    Clearly, it makes sense to a lot of people who know a lot about the English language, so I don’t know why everyone gets so hung up on this.

    “My non-binary friend is okay with being called he/she, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
    Oh boy.
    If you’re using the pronoun your friend told you to use, great. Non-binary people can use binary pronouns. Personally, I use both he and they, and I don’t mind either one. It doesn’t make me less non-binary, and the words and terms that make me comfortable don’t apply to everyone.
    But… (This is a very big but.)
    If your friend prefers singular they, but doesn’t correct you when you use he or she instead, chances are it’s because they don’t feel safe doing so. They may be afraid of getting into an awkward or dangerous situation by repeating themselves to someone who won’t listen.
    It takes a lot of courage to reveal such personal information to others, and when someone comes out to you, it’s because they trust you enough to tell you something really important. I guarantee you’re not getting a free pass, you’re just making someone quietly uncomfortable, and potentially losing a friend.
    Seriously, stop! And while you’re at it, you should probably say sorry to them.

    Illustration by Desmond Meagley. Design by Teresa Chin
    “I try to use they/them pronouns when people ask, but it’s so hard! I keep messing it up.”
    That’s okay! It happens to everyone. It takes time to adjust to new ways of speaking and thinking. Personally, I would much rather my friends and family mess up than give up entirely.
    All I ask is for you to not make it my problem. Getting really apologetic or changing the subject to how difficult you find my pronouns won’t make me feel any more comfortable after I’ve been misgendered. Don’t tell me that you’re trying, show me. Try, and then if you get it wrong, correct yourself and move on.
    Of course, there are people out there who will be harsh about good-faith mistakes. Sometimes it’s because they’re sensitized to being gendered a certain way. Other times, they’re just jerks. (Jerks come in all genders.) But in general, accidentally messing up pronouns is not the end of the world, as long as you’re holding yourself accountable.

  • Oakland Mix Tape: The Come Up

    by Teresa Chin

    Youth Radio’s Arts Team has put together a mix tape of Oakland’s best youth-made songs. The long awaited Remix Your Life mixtape “The Come Up”  is live and available here!  The compilation features creative work from Hasinnie Bennett, Ericson Sandoval, Sunday Simon, Shyra Gums, Damani Chadley, Garion Delaney, Edna Miller, Oluwafemi Ajala, Isaiah Richardson, Anatesia King, Jada Washington, Marcel Cedeno and Eli Arbreton.

  • City Slam: Black In Three Movements

    by Teresa Chin

    Youth Radio’s Soraya Shockley shares a bit of her experience as an African American person growing up in the United States, including a lesson she learned from a kindergarten experience where she had to choose a crayon to match her skin tone.

  • Reflections on “Artful Scribbles”

    by Howard Gardner

    The scholarly journal Studies in Art Education has published a commentary by Howard Gardner in which he reflects on his 1980 book Artful Scribbles: The Significance of Children’s Drawings.
    Thinking back on his work in the 1970s, Gardner reviews his reasons for writing the book, as well as which of its elements he considers durable and which he would change or add to update the text for the present day.
    Click here to read this short essay.

  • My Brother Converted To Christianity, And Now I’m Worried I’ve Lost Him

    by Youth Radio Interns

    Last summer, my family spent practically all of our time together. This summer, we had a lot of fun too, but something was missing — my brother Cole.
    He was busy taking summer college courses–though that’s not the only thing that kept him from us. He also has what he calls a second family.
    When my brother returned home from his first weeks at college last September, I was excited to hear all about how it was going. Dorm life, cafeteria food, and frat parties. Instead, when my family sat down at the table to eat, Cole closed his eyes, clasped his hands, and silently mouthed grace.
    My jaw dropped in shock.
    Atheism is all we’d ever known. But the first friends Cole made on campus belonged to a Southern Baptist church group. Not long after, he converted.
    My parents are trying to understand. They read those books about spirituality and even went to Easter church services. It’s been harder for me to accept.
    Early on, I asked Cole, “Do you think that when I die, I’ll go to Hell?”
    I expected him to say, “Of course not! You’re a good person.” But without pausing, he told me that if I didn’t repent for my sins, then yeah, I would.
    I wanted to scream that I’m his sister. Regardless of the Bible’s rules, he knows I’m a good person. I guess he has more faith in God than he has in me.
    I also have to own that I’ve made some very mortal mistakes on the road to acceptance. I fought with my brother a lot about his beliefs. I even laughed at him when he tried to explain them. Would a good person laugh at their own brother for something he cares about?
    I want to hold onto the Cole of my childhood, the one who climbed trees and loved making stupid puns with me. In some ways, we’re not those people anymore. We’re both changing so much.
    The thing I’ve learned through this, is that I can’t choose to focus on our differences.
    Yes, he’s Cole the Southern Baptist, but he’s also Cole — my funny, smart best friend.

  • Race/Related: My First Encounter With Racism

    by Teresa Chin

    Youth Radio in the NYTimes, Race/Related newsletter*
    *The full text will be available on Thursday, July 27th at the time the stories are published in The New York Times.

    As part of our partnership with the New York Times Race/Related, Youth Radio correspondents from around the country described their lasting memories of a first encounter with racism. Whether it was being stopped by a police officer, called a racial slur by kids in elementary school, or experiencing stereotypes as an unaccompanied minor in a new country, these experiences shaped who they are today.
    Youth Radio has a long history of reporting on issues of race and identity. The work represents the heart of what we do: exploring society’s most complicated issues through the experiences of young people. We’ve gathered some of our reporters’ most memorable stories on these issues below.

    Photo courtesy of Riley Locket
    Riley Lockett, 16, Black – Oakland, California
    About a month ago, I was walking to the BART station from school, sipping on soda, and listening to a podcast when I noticed a blue uniform following me like a shadow. It was a white police officer. He scanned me like he was the Terminator trying to see if I was a threat. I had never been stopped by a cop before. But I wasn’t scared or even nervous. I was prepared.
    Read the rest of Riley’s essay soon…

    Photo courtesy of Marianne Nacanaynay
    Marianne Nacanaynay, 16, Filipina – Mountlake Terrace, Washington
    The first time someone directed a racial slur towards me, I was at a pizza place in Everett, a town in western Washington State…I was waiting outside of the restaurant and chatting on the phone, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw two dudes walking by. They were young-looking — teens or 20-somethings — with light skin and blonde/brown hair. As they passed me, I heard them laugh and say, “f—king chink.”
    It took me a few moments to process what I had just heard. I was taken aback, but not exactly surprised. After all, there I was, a Filipina reporter covering a Pro-Trump rally.
    Read the rest of Marianne’s essay soon…

    Photo courtesy of Maya James
    Maya James, 19, Biracial (Black/White) – Traverse City, Michigan
    Shortly after enrolling in elementary school, one of my classmates threw the n-word at me in a small scuffle. I cannot remember what the little boy was so upset about — it was probably something elementary school students usually get upset about. Maybe I was hogging the markers; maybe I cut in line, or vice versa.
    It was the first time I had ever heard that word. I didn’t know how to react. I had many questions. Should I be upset? Could I call the white student the n-word too? Who invented this word? Do adults use the word?
    Read the rest of Maya’s essay soon…

    Photo courtesy of Bresee Youth Center, Los Angeles
    Jose, 16, Salvadoran – Los Angeles, California
    (Jose is using his first name only to protect his privacy. His essay has been translated from Spanish to English)
    I remember the first day I learned what American “racism” means. My friend and I were walking home from school, and we walked by a white couple. They looked at us and started talking to each other in hushed tones. We couldn’t understand everything they said, but we caught some bad stuff about Latinos and immigration, and we knew they were talking about us. We just kept on walking. It’s not worth getting into a back-and-forth. It’s better just to be quiet.
    They don’t know the stuff that we had to go through back home.  
    Read the rest of Jose’s essay soon…

  • All Day Play Fundraiser Night at SomaR

    by Noah Nelson

    The monthly happy hour fundraiser for All Day Play–our music station–will take place on August 17th from 6-10pm.
    Join All Day Play DJs as our DJs hold it down and the bar donates part of the proceeds to the station.
    SomaR Bar and Lounge
    1727 Telegraph Avenue
    Oakland, Ca 94612
    Must be 21+ years to enter.

  • Applications Open: Fall 2017 Session

    by Noah Nelson

    Youth Radio’s Fall 2017 training session will begin on September 18th, and we’re taking applications for new participants now.
    High school students between the ages of 14-18 are eligible to apply for our in-house training programs. After 6 months, students are eligible to apply for paid internships in all departments at Youth Radio.

  • How Do Future Students Get a Whiff of College? A Century-Long Perspective

    by Howard Gardner

    When few students pursued higher learning, the decision to attend college was based chiefly on family background and geographical propinquity. In the last century, however, attendance at college and university has become much more frequent—at least half of American secondary school graduates eventually pursue some kind of higher learning. Not all students have choices about where they matriculate, but many do. And whether or not they matriculate at their “first choice,” a large majority of students surely arrive on campus with some expectation of what they can expect to encounter—both in the classroom and beyond (e.g. the surrounding grounds, abundant extracurricular activities, various social circles). From where do these impressions emanate?
    As far as I can tell, we don’t have much direct evidence of how—in earlier times—prospective students thought about and imagined their imminent college experience. But I suspect that impressions came significantly from works of art—and particularly from works of fiction.
    The strongest evidence can be found in a novel by Owen Johnson called Stover at Yale, serialized in McClure’s magazine in 1911 and published as a book a year later. From a literary point of view, there is nothing remarkable about the book—a straightforward account of the experience of one “preppy” (graduate of the prestigious Lawrenceville School) who attended the New Haven Ivy League college around 1900.
    But as a description of a college, Stover at Yale is arresting. There is virtually nothing about teaching, studying, learning, mastering a canon, or conducting research, let alone pursuing new scholarly questions. Instead, the book focuses almost entirely on getting ahead in the social sphere—partly through extracurricular activities (especially football) but even more so through membership in elite secret societies—the coveted sophomore clubs and the prestigious senior clubs, with the legendary “Skull and Bones” clearly constituting the top rung to which the most ambitious students aspire.
    Upon reading Stover at Yale, anyone, no matter how well or poorly informed they were, would assume that college was about social advancement, especially surpassing peers with whom one is fiercely competitive. It was not about scholarship or learning or public service or reflection on one’s life. To be sure, there is a bit of tension in the novel. As his college years pass, Stover becomes increasingly concerned about the social and financial inequities that he encounters on campus. And so, he decides provisionally to align himself with the “outsiders”—those who do not fit comfortably on the campus or are oriented toward public service or are simply more idealistic—and not to care whether he is invited to join a secret society.
    If you think that the climax of the novel features Stover overthrowing the status quo, joining the misfits, the outcasts, the saints, or the “thinkers,” you will be disappointed. The climax involves a countdown as the fifteen members of Skull and Bones are announced, one by one. Sure enough, when number 15 is reached, Stover is announced, anointed, and celebrated. I am not certain of the intended moral of the story, but here’s my takeaway: “You can have it all, not sacrifice your values, and still end up at the top.”
    In This Side of Paradise, a novel published less than a decade later, F. Scott Fitzgerald focused on the experiences at Princeton University of his thinly disguised alter ego Amory Blaine. While the physical plant of Yale is largely ignored in the Stover saga, the fabled appearance of Princeton—its tall steeples, long and leisurely lawns, and intimate village atmosphere—is lovingly portrayed. Thick descriptions pervade the book. Within a few pages, indeed paragraphs, I was reminded that I was reading a talented writer—one whom you read at least in part because of his choice of words, evocative imagery, and sense of structure. In literary talent, F. Scott Fitzgerald versus Owen Johnson is no contest.
    The protagonists are also very different. Blaine has social ambitions and an active social life, but he is also a serious young student—in his case, of literature. Fitzgerald portrays him as reading widely, talking incessantly to friends about what he has read, and writing a great deal of verse as well as other more prosaic forms. There are many passages in which the students argue philosophical issues with one another, and many examples of poetry—some verses better than others—written by the protagonist.
    At Stover’s Yale, the role of teachers and of classes is minimized; in contrast, the world of knowledge—in humanistic, not scientific form—is foregrounded in Fitzgerald’s novel. I suspect that, even today, many at Princeton would be proud of that portrayal. Still, the novel manages to convey a message that the classroom and learning are not really the essence of the college experience. Finding one’s own identity, midst the welter of local and societal issues, is what college is about. Commenting on Fitzgerald’s novel, then President of Princeton John Grier Hibben said, “I cannot bear to think that our young men are merely living four years in a country club and spending their lives wholly in a spiral of calculation and snobbishness.”
    In This Side of Paradise, one particular sentence caught my eye. The narrator says, “Stover was our Bible.” I read this line as confirming that the knowledge of college that Fitzgerald (and his literary creations) brought to campus is based significantly on what Owen Johnson had taught them. Such was the power of literature—at least in those long-gone times.
    And what of Harvard—typically mentioned in the same Ivy breath? I did not find a novelist of the period whose description of Harvard was as salient as Johnson on Yale or Fitzgerald on Princeton. But one contemporary novelist was clearly thinking a lot about Harvard, and that was Thomas Wolfe—Fitzgerald’s sometime friend and sometime antagonist.
    Harvard was important for Wolfe, but he did not attend as an undergraduate. He spent more than two years there as a graduate student with a focus on preparation to be a scholar, a somewhat different experience from that of collegiate students Stover and Blaine. Accordingly, much of Wolfe’s writings about the undergraduate college experience focus on a mythical school called Pine Rock (also called Pulpit Hill), at which the young protagonist Eugene Gant initially feels alienated; immerses himself in philosophical and literary texts; interacts as a peer with professors; and, because of his intellectual strengths, ultimately becomes a respected leader on campus.
    Harvard figures in Wolfe’s three novels as more aspirational and symbolic than as a textured campus—the place he wants to attend to continue his education, to study and rub shoulders with giants (like the drama teacher George Pierce Baker and the Shakespeare scholar George Lyman Kittredge—note the patrician names!), and to get the seal of approval as an educated person.
    But even in Wolfe’s books, one can discern the shadow of earlier novelistic accounts. At one point the narrator says, tellingly, of Gant, “His conception of university life was a romantic blur, evoked from his reading and tempered with memory of Stover of Yale.”
    Picking up the question that I posed in the beginning, I think it’s fair to conclude this: young students (at this point, only men) who read the novels of the period could find literary inspiration in Amory Blaine and intellectual modelling in Eugene Gant; but neither could escape the social aspirations and pressures felt by Dink Stover. And indeed, college as primarily a social experience, rather than an intellectual one, has cast a shadow across these one hundred years. Of course, it’s also possible that the writings attracted different kinds of readers (more social types to Johnson, more intellectual types to Wolfe) or that readers took away different through lines from the same text.
    By mid-century, the broadcast media—first radio, then increasingly television—became important molders of public thought. And of course, young persons learned about college from news reports, theatrical productions, and published guides, like The Fiske Guide to College. But I would submit, far greater influence came from portrayals in the movies—ranging from the spoofs in Animal House to the more serious portrayals in Love Story. And of course, nowadays, websites devised by the colleges and gossip purveyed in online networks are significant molders of young person’s anticipated college experiences. In future blogs, I’ll review some of these “media-ted” portrayals of higher education.

  • Don’t Wait To Tell Your Friends How Much They Mean To You

    by Denise Tejada

    My friends are complete oddballs. With them, there is no in between. They are either extremely loud and expressive or very quiet and timid. But they all share similar struggles. Many of them deal with anxiety, depression, insomnia or all three.
    More than half of my friends struggle with mental illnesses. And some have even attempted suicide. 
    I often see them come to school looking tired as if they haven’t slept in days– for some that’s actually true.
    My friend once mentioned that I happened to text her in the middle of a suicide attempt. I had said to her, “you’re my best friend.” It was a random text I sent, but if it wasn’t for it, she said later, she wouldn’t be here.
    It’s often the people closest to us who are having hidden struggles. You may not realize it, but a few simple, kind words or check in can be a good start for a person to get the help they need.
    It turns out that just being a friend, can make a difference in a person’s life. Now I’m inspired to be more proactive to tell people how much they mean to me.