George Mason University’s new Youth Research Council (YRC) is a collaborative and community-based research partnership between the Center for Social Science Research (CSSR) in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP), which invites ninth through twelfth graders into the field of social science research. Over the course of the program, students design, conduct, analyze, and present their research.
EIP has, since 1987, offering an innovative, multi-year college preparatory program that helps middle and high school students from traditionally marginalized communities and first-generation college-bound students navigate high school academics and the college application process.
Khaseem Davis, EIP’s executive director, said that the YRC was a great opportunity for EIP participants. Davis is one of the co-directors of the YRC, along with Meagan Call-Cummings, associate professor of qualitative methodology, College of Education and Human Development, and Mason sociology professor Amy Best, CSSR director.
“Meagan and I had been having conversations around figuring out ways to engage EIP students in research, but it really hit me during our scholarship process,” Davis said. “Without a doubt, the overwhelming majority [of EIP participants] were speaking about how they were impacted by microaggressions, racism, all of these different things. It became apparent that they were having these conversations among themselves as youth but did not necessarily feel equipped or comfortable having those conversations with adults.”
The council gives these students an opportunity to take part in a community-based research project of their own. It launched in the summer of 2021 with 34 founding Youth Research Council fellows from 20 high schools across Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax Counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church.
“We really try to approach it from an appreciative perspective,” said Call-Cummings. “We’ll convene you all, we’ll find space, we’ll provide you with some ideas of activities you can do, but really, just as Khaseem said, we know that these students are experts on their own lives, on their own experiences. We just need to provide space and opportunities for amplification, and they will fill that space.”
“Social science research is critical to democracy, so this is really a way to cultivate the set of competencies that can be used for civic goals,” added Best. "It’s really about community capacity building and making sure that youth are stakeholders in community development and community capacity from the beginning.”