Abstract: "I Have a Say, Too" Perceptions of Social Change Involvement from High School into Adulthood (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

"I Have a Say, Too" Perceptions of Social Change Involvement from High School into Adulthood

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Charrise Phillips Hollingsworth, M.S.Ed, Doctoral Student, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Scholars have highlighted several meaning-processes associated with social change involvement. As young people develop their civic identity, they draw upon their worldview to develop attitudes around community-focused activities (Hope & Jagers, 2014; Yates & Youniss, 1998). Youth civic attitudes emerge from meaning-making processes such as understanding one’s socioeconomic status (McMahon et al., 2006), political institutions (Curtin et al., 2010; Einfeld & Collins, 2008), and young people’s perception of the efficacy of their involvement (Evans, 2007). Although previous research has highlighted adolescence as a critical time for preparing young people to participate in social change, there is little evidence of the extent to which adolescents’ perception of youth social change involvement evolves as they enter adulthood. This paper will explore the extent to which contextual factors contribute to adolescents’ perception of their social change involvement over time.


Qualitative data comes from the Stanford Civic Purpose Project, a publicly available dataset from the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research database. Semi-structured interviews from 25 adolescents were completed during their senior year of high school in 2011, with follow-up interviews in 2013. Adolescents were recruited from seven ethnically and racially diverse public high schools in California (Ballard et al., 2015). All students were approximately 17 years old at the beginning of the first wave of data collection and 57% identified as female and 84% identified as non-white. Data analysis included thematic coding (Charmaz, 2006) for emergent themes related to adolescents’ perception of youth social change involvement.


Findings suggest that high school students express an interest in promoting social change, primarily through participating in electoral process. Meaning-making processes resulting from political socialization practices and involvement with community organizations were identified as contributions to young people’s perception of their efficacy in promoting social change. Findings also indicate that lived experiences impact young people’s perception of their role in social change endeavors. In particular, exposure to systems of injustice and oppression encouraged young people to increase their awareness of multiple forms of social change action. Further, adolescents’ perception of their social change efficacy continues to evolve as they transition into adulthood.


Findings from this paper help conceptualize explanations for a range of social change behaviors from inactivity to justice-oriented participation. Meaning-making processes related to worldview development and psychological empowerment can move some adolescents to participate in social change efforts based on their lived experiences or what they perceive as unjust practices around them (Clay, 2006; Haddix et al., 2015), while others continue to consider their perceived role in promoting social change. By understanding how young people think about social change involvement as they enter adulthood, future research can further explore additional contributing factors for youth participation. Moreover, findings can help youth practitioners develop activities to encourage community engagement throughout high school and into adulthood. Through culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate content, programming can acknowledge the ways in which young people’s lived experiences and additional contextual factors might impact their interest in participating in social change movements in the future.