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June 1, 2023

MSU’s newly formed Youth Equity Project working to reduce disparities

Elevated struggles in childhood, late adolescence and early adulthood, such as poor mental health and violent victimization, can be exacerbated by social disparities and disproportionately impact individuals from less-advantaged backgrounds. The newly launched Youth Equity Project at Michigan State University was created to reduce disparities and advance health, justice and well-being among marginalized youth and families through community-engaged research conducted in Lansing, Flint and Detroit.

The Youth Equity Project, or YEP, is led by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the MSU College of Social Science. This collaborative, interdisciplinary effort includes faculty from the School of Criminal Justice, School of Social Work, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and the College of Education. 

“The work we do in the Youth Equity Project really draws upon community engaged research, prevention and intervention along with ways to inform practitioners and policymakers about understanding and reducing disparities and increasing opportunities for marginalized youth,” said Emilie Smith, professor of human development and family studies, the inaugural College of Social Science Distinguished Senior Scholar and director of the MSU Youth Equity Project. 

Smith and colleagues are working with a number of organizations including the Detroit Police Department, Michigan Public Health Institute, Life Remodeled and Lansing Westside YMCA, to name a few.

“It is so important for us to use our research to inform practitioners and policymakers at all levels of these disparities and their potential key factors,” Smith explained. “We are making connections between the research and those who are able to implement change through new laws, educational programs and outreach.”

The city of Lansing is one that is struggling along with many other cities in America to curb levels of youth violence in racially or ethnically minoritized groups. Across the country, an estimated 2 million youth are arrested each year. Many of these youths grow up involved in the juvenile justice system or child welfare programs such as foster care. Others experience greater levels of parental neglect, a factor that is closely related to poverty, and structural inequalities such as discrimination and redlining.

“The work of the YEP has the potential to greatly impact our community as we use our research to inform the public on issues of importance in our neighborhoods right now,” Smith said. “We are really thinking about the ways in which we can empower educators and policymakers to listen and pay attention to children and their needs.”

Smith hopes that her own work and that of the Youth Equity Project will decrease the number of minoritized young people involved in violent crime and the juvenile justice system, while working to put in place safe spaces and programs to keep these individuals out of potentially dangerous situations.

“Envisioning and enacting a new future where we make important strides in increasing opportunities is why this work is so important to me,” she said. “I hope that the YEP can go forward and have more public panels that involve lawyers, police, social welfare providers — people who can provide opportunities for youth expression and carve out ways in which we can advance this work, reduce disparities and open up new opportunities.”

Learn more about the MSU Youth Equity Project.

By: Kim Ward


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