How Do We Engage Black and Latinx Youth in Policy Issues?

Q&A With Alice Huguet and Andrea Prado Tuma

Alice Huguet and Andrea Prado Tuma discuss their innovative work to bring media literacy lessons to Black and Latinx youth and to engage youth in policy discussions. This work extends RAND research through an impact award, supported by Charles and Barbara Zwick.

Alice Huguet

Andrea Prado-Tuma

Tell us about the media literacy work you are pursuing. How does it connect with racial equity?

Andrea: The idea behind our project is to extend the reach of RAND’s research to younger audiences, particularly middle school children, by developing lesson plans that teachers can use to both cultivate students’ interest in policy issues while at the same time fostering media literacy (ML) competencies. Our project centers racial equity in two ways. First, we are intentional about partnering with youth organizations that serve students of color to ensure that our design is relevant and interesting to audiences that are generally underrepresented in research fields. We are working with an afterschool program in Boston, and a school in Los Angeles. Second, our lesson design prioritizes youth voice to encourage teachers to learn from their students’ experiences while building their ability to think critically about a complicated media landscape.

What are you learning from this project, and what do you think it will mean for future efforts to address media and digital literacy for populations often underresourced and underrepresented?

Alice: We are in the early stages of this project. We have completed four ML workshops with students in Boston and will conduct workshops soon in Los Angeles. We have learned a few things early on, though, including information about students’ policy interests. The students who we worked with in Boston were interested in learning about topics that they had already heard about from either their academic or home lives. There were two topics that they picked, specifically, to learn more about; one was policing and racial equity, and the other was international disparities in COVID-19 pandemic responses. We connected them with RAND experts who have experience researching these issues, and they engaged in a Q&A with those researchers.

Big picture, we learned that students don’t necessarily know what “policy” is yet (we are working with middle school students), but they have a lot of curiosity about important policy-relevant topics. They are learning about how policy intersects with their own lives, and that’s exciting to observe.

We are hoping that what we learn from this project—and what we are able to offer by providing free, easy-to-access, clear ML lesson plans—will allow other students to explore their personal connections to policy research.

Personally, why are you interested in this work? How do you see your professional interests advancing racial equity policy?

Andrea: Growing up I had very little exposure to research, let alone policy research. I didn’t have the tools to understand how policy impacted my experiences or the issues I cared about, such as reducing gender and racial inequities in Mexico, where I grew up. I wish I had exposure to this in middle school or high school, it could have helped me be a more critical consumer of media at an earlier age. I think ML education can be a tool in elevating the voice of underrepresented communities and, in doing so, shaping the policy agenda on issues and solutions that matter to them.

Alice: Truth Decay catalyzed my interest in studying ML; facts have to matter in in public conversations. I have been thinking about ML competencies in relation to recent state-level legislation that bans teachers from discussing racial inequities. ML skills, like those included in the ML standards that we published in January, prioritize an understanding of the social and historical contexts of information. At a basic level, ML skills are also about recognizing facts. I feel these competencies are of critical importance right now, particularly as a counterbalance to policies that may constrain fact-based conversations about race and equity in classrooms.

What do you see as gaps in the fields you work, with respect to equity? Where can RAND make a difference?

Alice: There are numerous equity-relevant angles to K–12 ML education that remain under-researched. Generally, we don’t have a great understanding of who is receiving ML education, what the quality is, and how that differs based on student characteristics. One of our RAND teams started to crack the surface of these issues through posing questions on the American Teacher Panel, and we will be publishing a Data Note on the results this summer; we did, indeed, find that there were differences in ML education associated with ethnicity and income levels of school populations. However, our findings are exploratory and limited to one survey—this needs to be explored further. I think that there are also important intersections between ML and access to technology which remain understudied, as well.

Some readers might be interested in a specific strand of ML called critical media literacy, which addresses common depictions of minoritized or underrepresented groups in media. With the interactive nature of today’s information ecosystem, there are opportunities for everyday people to not only deconstruct, but to construct and share new narratives that are empowering and potentially more honest than what is commonly covered in news, entertainment, or other mediums. I think the blurring of the line in this way—between information producers and consumers—presents great opportunities for ML studies. In this vein, our workshops include a chance for students to create a TikTok video or a podcast to share information about the research topics they learned.

Andrea: Like Alice noted, there are several avenues of research at the intersection of ML and equity where RAND can make a difference, especially when we leverage the wide range of expertise in our organization. Something else that I think we’ve learned in this and other projects is that while schools are often asked to implement interventions to achieve social change and racial equity, schools can’t do it alone. I think there is a lot of interest from educators in learning about ML and racial equity, but school staff don’t always have the resources or time to work on these topics. So, there is also an opportunity to study how schools can partner with organizations in their community to provide media literacy education in ways that are attuned to specific community needs. Related to this, students are most often exposed to media outside of school, so there is also a need for more research on how to better equip families to build children’s ML competencies.

Read more about RAND's work on media literacy education

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