Penn State Brandywine introduces youth development and social justice minor

MEDIA, Pa. — Recognizing the increasing importance of helping students understand the unique challenges facing adolescents and youth in a rapidly changing world, Penn State Brandywine now offers a minor in youth development and social justice.

Using an interdisciplinary approach, the 19-credit program is based on the assumption that youth are assets to their communities. In a collaborative, student-centered learning environment, students will learn about the factors that contribute to positive youth development and how they may be fostered within peer groups, families, communities and social institutions.

Kristen Goessling, assistant professor of human development and family studies, initiated the new minor with support from the Penn State Center in Philadelphia. She collaborated closely with Marinda Harrell-Levy, also an assistant professor of human development and family studies, and Cynthia Lightfoot, director of academic affairs and professor of human development and family studies.

“This minor aligns well with my research, service and philosophy of what education can be — a process of consciousness raising and liberation,” Goessling said. “It was an exciting opportunity to put those values into action.”

To create the minor, Brandywine faculty developed three new courses. Goessling created Introduction to Youth Development and Arts-Based Social Justice (HDFS 175N) and the Youth Development and Social Justice Capstone (HDFS 400). Harrell-Levy developed Contemporary Urban Issues and Social Justice Frameworks (HDFS 325). Those three courses, along with Adolescent Development (HDFS 239), establish a foundational knowledge in youth development and social justice and are required for the minor.

In addition, students in the minor choose two electives that may align with their professional goals. Courses are offered from a variety disciplines, including criminal justice, peace and conflict studies, sociology, psychology, political science, Earth science and communications.

To register for the minor program, participants are required to have previously earned at least 60 credits.

Goessling said one of her goals for the minor is for students to expand their own understanding of who they are as individuals and as members of the broader community, while developing critical consciousness through socio-political analysis, critical reflection and social action.

“We’re using real experiences and shifting from a banking model of education to more conversational and a negotiated and reflective process,” she added. “We’re shifting power in the classroom. Students are experts on their experiences. I don’t tell them the conclusion or answer. It’s up to them to draw their own conclusions.”

“Students should understand that privilege, access and opportunity have a crucial role in their futures and who they become,” she said. “That understanding should inform their analyses of the ways that structures and institutions reproduce power and oppression in our society.”

Through the minor, students will have the opportunity to develop the skills, experience and knowledge to support adolescents, youth and their communities and to work with individuals of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. They also will enhance their teamwork, flexibility, persistence and communication abilities.

Courses focus on normative and maladaptive patterns of adolescent development, the social ecology of positive youth development, youth-related social justice issues, youth arts and activism, urban issues, socio-political development and methods of prevention, intervention and restorative justice. Students engage in a critical examination of various forms of injustice (such as patriarchy, settler colonialism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, imperialism, xenophobia, poverty, racism and classism) and explore strategies for creating a more equitable and just world.

The program provides an overview of the interconnectedness between youth development and youth resistance to social injustice. Students in the minor will analyze issues of equity and oppression in relation to youth development, work directly with youth in community-based settings, and apply theory to practice to build on the strengths of communities and young people.

Using classroom knowledge in a real-world setting is a critical part of the program. Students in the capstone course this past spring spent the semester working with students at the Alexander K. McClure Elementary School in North Philadelphia

Brandywine will continue to offer a 12-credit youth development and social justice certificate, which Harrell-Levy coordinates.

Lightfoot, who has been involved with the program since its inception, said she is excited about the continued interest in and growth of the curriculum.

“Our youth development and social justice program has been extraordinarily popular,” Lightfoot said. “It's inspiring to see so many Brandywine students dedicated to using their Penn State education to help people in their communities and around the world create more just societies.”