MSU’s newly formed Youth Equity Project is Working to Reduce Disparities

April 12, 2023 - Emily Jodway

Michigan State University is surrounded by a wealth of diverse and flourishing neighborhoods in East Lansing, Lansing and beyond that enrich the university and campus life while also giving opportunities for research and collaboration with the community as a whole. 

One such group conducting research in greater Lansing, Flint, Detroit and surrounding areas is the MSU Youth Equity Project led by Dr. Emilie Smith. Housed within the College of Social Science, the Youth Equity Project is an interdisciplinary group with faculty from Human Development and Family Studies, Social Work and Criminal Justice all working together. 

“The work that 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,” Dr. Smith explained.

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. This can lead to increased levels of violence and truancy among this group. The Youth Equity Project works hands-on in the community to discover and suggest ways to improve the lives of youth in Lansing and beyond.  

“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. “From there, we can develop ways to approach and remedy these often deep disparities that affect the lives of real people in our city, state and across the country.”

The experiences of youths are not easily compartmentalized - they are each affected by their environments in different ways. This requires the YEP to use a multidisciplinary approach to research and collaborations with the community.

“We have to equip minoritized youth [with ways] to cope effectively, helping them build positive identities while dismantling oppressive practices and systems,” she explained. 

The YEP works closely with many community partners, such as the Lansing YMCA and the Office of Special Populations, to make connections between the research being done by faculty and those who are able to implement change through new laws, educational programs and outreach.

“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.” 

For more information on the MSU Youth Equity Project, click here.