Looking back and imagining forward: The YOUmedia Network in 2020

Wheat-pasted image on adandoned storefront window; shows bear in pink shirt holding sign that says "WE"RE IN THIS TOGETHER"

Last year marked a global pandemic, political violence and racial reckoning that impacted how we work and live. As a community of practice, we and our young people were first overwhelmed by a year-long pandemic and polarizing rhetoric surrounding science, followed by nationwide protests against racialized state violence, systematized from our country’s 400-year legacy of racial violence and finally, faced the radicalized and conspiratorial shift in our nation’s politics. Labs within the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network have been resilient and flexible in instigating remarkable adaptations to make learning accessible for our youth amidst many of this past year’s challenges.

We realized as a network that changes needed to be made to be able to support our young people. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents reported major shifts in how activities were hosted and connections were made. Interestingly for us, in analyzing these findings is how much the YOUmedia hallmarks still guided temporarily virtual and currently for some us, hybrid approach in engaging with young people. More work needs to be done. As a network, we have experienced firsthand the importance of teen safe places. We have seen and dealt with first hand the difficulty of creating space-based connections within virtual environments. We have seen the traumatization of an entire generation from the pandemic. We are proud of our young people speaking truth and bringing deeper understanding to our concepts of gender and identity. As lab staff, we have felt the heartbreak of losing a segment of our young people through the digital divide and other socioeconomic differences. Our greatest advocacy work may be here–in building new radical connections and reimagining teen spaces that are resilient, sustainable and equitable.

This study (available upon logging/joining the YOUmedia Learning Labs Community of Practice) documents what happened to us this past year and brings up questions of places we as a network can work together. We see the need for more gender identity and racial equity work and the need for greater flexibility in our offerings. We saw what happens to a community when temporary to long-term barriers are put into place that prevent access to physical lab locations. We acknowledge the need to refine our programming and work on effectively reaching out to and connecting with our youths.

We look forward to partnering with each other to create virtual programs to build a deeper network for our youths. We call out the necessity in creating hybrid (virtual & in-person approaches) and we note that, at least in the virtual realm, there might not be a one-size fits all approach. Whether it is loaning of digital devices, approaching community building via mobile devices or focusing on free software, these are places to start to develop this blended approach.

Stay connected.

Adrienne Strock & Vi Ha, July 2021

Image credit: Christina Cantrill, street art in Philadelphia, May 2020