Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Martin D. Ruck


Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Colette Daiute

Roderick Watts

Erika Niwa

Beth C. Rubin

Subject Categories

Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Multicultural Psychology


Youth participation, African American, Adolescence, Civic Engagement, Children's rights


Youth participation has been brought to the forefront of scholarly concerns by a growing interest in the positive effects of youth participation on developmental outcomes. However, few studies have investigated within group variations in African American young people’s views of civic participation. The present study examined African American early adolescents’ perceptions of youth participation in resolving community problems. Using a written protocol instrument with open-ended questions, the present study elicited diverse narratives from thirty-one 11-14 year old African American adolescents in order to address within-group variations in their experiences with youth participation and their understanding of racial discrimination. Participants described their understandings of social problems in their communities and their understandings of the role of young people in addressing those social problems. Participants were also asked to write about whether they believe that people are treated differently based on their race and ethnicity. Based on a narrative plot analysis (Daiute, 2013), the two most commonly identified problems for young people in their communities were bullying and racial discrimination. Participants wrote of both problems as forms of social exclusion. As in previous studies of social exclusion (Ruck, Park, Crystal, & Killen, 2014), injustice and inequality were commonly mentioned themes in young people’s reasoning. In addition, discussions of racist beliefs elicited references to social hierarchy and historical circumstances. Similarly to prior research on child participation (Morrow, 2005), participants in this study revealed a range of experiences with volunteer work and community service. The civic activities young people identified as meaningful ranged from structured school-based activities to information exchanges and self-managed bystander interventions. Many of the identified forms of participation are typically not explored by standard measures of youth participation. The present study’s results are discussed in terms of the extant research on youth participation and social exclusion. The findings of the current study suggest that community problems assist young people in organizing their views of youth participation. Future studies should consider the differences between the participation of African American youth growing up in racially homogenous communities and of those who live in more diverse communities.