Youth Equity Project announces 2023 seed grant award winners

April 18, 2023 - Emily Jodway

Research surrounding the struggles of marginalized youth and how they can be supported throughout adolescence continues to be at the forefront of the MSU Youth Equity Project’s mission. Faculty and graduate students from departments across the College of Social Science are continually working together to promote justice, equity, wellbeing and systemic social change among this group. Two outstanding researchers affiliated with the organization, Dr. Caitlin Cavanaugh and Youchuan Zhang, were named the winners of the inaugural MSU Youth Equity Project Faculty and Graduate Student Seed Grants.

These seed grants, the first of their kind awarded by the Youth Equity Project, will help fund research projects supporting the mission of the YEP by investigating social disparities among marginalized youth and their families. 

“The work of these faculty and doctoral scholars is advancing research exploring the experiences of marginalized youth,” Dr. Emilie Smith, Director of the Youth Equity Project, said. “This highly relevant work examines youth experiences of multiple racial-ethnic and gender identities, discrimination and what it means for sleep-related health outcomes. This work also importantly explores the ways in which juvenile justice involvement, disproportionately experienced by racial-ethnic minority youth, affects their relationships with their parents and siblings. We are so excited for this continued work that we hope will lead to learning more about how to reduce disparities and increase opportunities.”

cavanaughDr. Caitlin Cavanaugh is an associate professor of criminal justice and received the Faculty Seed Grant Award for her work examining the impact of juvenile justice involvement on several areas of familial relationships. Cavanaugh seeks to study not only how parent-child relationships can change and potentially erode over time, but how co-parent, parent-sibling, and sibling-sibling dynamics may also be impacted by juvenile justice. 

This longitudinal study will combine interviews with families whose children have been systems involved with analysis of official records housed within local Michigan juvenile courts. Cavanaugh signals out the importance of the juvenile justice system itself and its potential to positively or negatively impact a family’s dynamic both during and after a child is involved in a crime. By examining this, she hopes to better understand how continued juvenile delinquency contact can erode a parent-child bond, create conflict between parents or increase the likeliness of a sibling also becoming involved in crime. This can help aid in the development of more effective family programming that can potentially combat these issues. 

zhangGraduate student Youchuan Zhang is a doctoral candidate in human development and family studies, and was awarded the Graduate Student Seed Grant for her research on the intersections of identity, discrimination, structural stigma and sleep among adolescents. 

Zhang’s work uses an intersectionality theory to explore disparities in sleep deprivation among youth with intersecting identities. A lack of sleep for young people can lead to increased rates of depression, obesity, anxiety and substance abuse, and sleep deprivation has been found to be more prevalent among marginalized groups. At present, research on the contributing factors behind this have been studied only among youth with singular defining characteristics. Zhang hopes to use the intersectionality theory to better understand how sleep deprivation affects youth who identify with multiple racial, ethnic or gender minoritized groups. This will in turn help design future intervention programs that can both improve youth sleep health and reduce disparities. 

To learn more about the Youth Equity Project and their research efforts in the community and beyond, click here