Youth Media Curriculum for Justice

Left: Jessica Collins, Right: Andrea Quijada
Youth media encompasses diverse realities of how communities live, work, play, and communicate. For example, youth media work in New Mexico differs from youth media work in many other regions in the U.S. New Mexico is a very poor, rural, and under-resourced area located in the fifth geographically largest state in the country. This reality impacts our access to everything from healthcare, to food, funding, and technology, such as rural broadband, computers, software, and digital cameras.
Moreover, a range of communities exist even within New Mexico. It is a majority minority state, with large percentages of our communities speaking Native languages, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The frequent use of English in classrooms creates language barriers that impact all educational programs, and youth media work specifically. As a result, few media programs are offered in languages other than English, and access to these important communication tools becomes available only to English-speaking youth.
However, standardized curricula are often created from a perspective not relevant to marginalized young people and their respective communities. It is often developed by someone from outside young people’s lives who is telling their story, speaking for them, and imposing a limiting framework. Moreover, curriculum often assumes uniformity among young people and forces all youth to fit into narrow “youth” demographics and markets created in part by mainstream media.
If all people, including young people, were considered experts on their own communities, curriculum would be by and for the communities they come from. What youth curriculum today needs is a framework by which communities—people of color, LGBTQI, low-income, immigrant and youth—can learn, share, and exchange information to create change and build power. A media justice framework is the only way to ensure that all young people are both seen and heard throughout youth media curriculum.
Media Literacy Project and MAG-Net
Based in Albuquerque, the Media Literacy Project (MLP) has been designing curriculum for youth and adults since 1993. In 2008, MLP strategically and consciously began incorporating a media justice framework into our program areas, a step in a larger process of engaging the community in dialogue, action, and policy creation. For example, last year MLP helped New Mexicans with the digital television transition. This work was critical because, leading up to the transition, New Mexico was the least prepared state due to issues of poverty, language, and lack of funding and other resources.
MLP’s shift toward workshops, curricula, and trainings to expand and prioritize disenfranchised communities coincided with MLP becoming an anchor organization of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net). The network seeks to bring about media policy for change to advance racial justice, gender and economic equity, and youth and immigrant rights.
Youth Media Summit Curriculum for Justice
Due to our recent community organizing work in New Mexico, we were excited to help represent our state at the Youth Media Summit in Lake Forest, Illinois. As both members of the Youth Media Summit steering committee and MLP staff, we co-facilitated (along with Meghan McDermott from Global Action Project) a working group on curriculum at the Summit.
Also in this group were Malkia Cyril from Center for Media Justice; Amalia Deloney from the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net); Jackie Kook from People’s Production House; Jen Macchiarelli from Global Action Project; and Jasmine White from Public Access Corporation of D.C.
This working group created an asset map and outlined objectives, guiding principles, and strategies for a comprehensive media justice approach. For instance, the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN is a current and successful model of a progressive community organizing strategy center—the term “media justice” was coined there in 2002. At the core of Highlander’s work are programs designed to build strong and successful social-change activism and community organizing led by the people who suffer most from the injustices of society.
Such programs might be adapted for other regions of the country; although, our working group recognizes there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to youth media curriculum. For example, curriculum that works with most young people in Albuquerque may not necessarily work in a town 20 miles outside of Albuquerque, let alone in another state or region of the country.
Ultimately, a media justice approach makes room in curriculum development and implementation for rural youth, youth of color, non-English speaking youth, immigrant youth, queer youth, and low-income youth.
At the Summit, our working group agreed that the objectives of youth media curriculum for justice are to develop, connect, change and sustain communities. We believe that curriculum should develop under-represented and misrepresented youth, families, and communities to their highest capacity. It needs to go beyond teaching a skill and demonstrate how these media skills benefit communities.
In addition, curriculum should increase young people’s participation in the life of their community and in civic engagement. Youth should develop awareness, resources, and an ability to reflect on their lives, articulate their analyses, and reach their goals. Curriculum should inspire and help youth define their role in the world around them.
Curriculum should also connect youth, families, and communities culturally, politically, and technologically. Media justice curriculum and the outcomes brought about through its implementation can break down barriers, unify people, and create systemic social change.
Finally, curriculum must sustain leadership development, connections, and changes. Sustaining youth, families, and communities includes everything from job creation to financial sustainability—where organizations are relying not only on foundation support but also community support—and self-determination, in which young people have choices and freedom over their own lives.
Suggestions for the Youth Media Field
Create a popular education-training center. At such a center, educators and trainers could build their skills in and knowledge of popular education with a specific emphasis on strategic communications, youth media, and media justice. Youth media organizations would come together to promote visibility for certain regions of the country and communities such as queer youth, youth of color, and low-income youth.
Establish long-term funding. We need to build relationships with funders to obtain long-term funding to convene grantees, social justice organizers, media producers, and trainers for a knowledge, tool, and curriculum exchange. This type of funding leads to the sustainability of organizations and communities. Multi-year grants allow organizations to learn more, change, and adapt within a longer funding cycle. This type of change can’t be done with a one-year grant. Three-year grants create stronger programs and evaluations and more accurate data.
Highlight and replicate successful models. Both projects and policy advocacy have integrated media literacy and media justice curriculum into public educational systems. For example, the MLP currently works with educational systems in New Mexico and throughout the country. Through grants we have delivered media literacy presentations and trainings in middle and high schools. We have built a strong relationship with the New Mexico Department of Health to bring media literacy to all parts of our state, while at the same time working to build healthy communities.
On the policy end, NMMLP worked to educate state legislators on media literacy during the first 2009 legislative session. Along with our local partners, we proposed a bill to make media literacy a required elective in public middle and high schools. Although the language in this bill was changed from a required elective to a possible elective, the bill went all the way to the governor and was signed off on in its first year. It was a huge win for media literacy and media justice in New Mexico. We need to build on this work both in New Mexico and in other states.
Next Steps
Media justice broadens the field in ways we are only starting to visualize and comprehend. Its objectives are living and breathing and will need frequent evaluation to meet the needs of our shifting cultures, politics, and technologies. We understand that for a variety of reasons many organizations may not be in a place to implement these suggestions in their curriculum now. Your organization may need a strategic plan in place that addresses the steps to get there.
Nevertheless, it is only when the communities’ most disenfranchised are placed at the center of all our work—from education and curriculum development, to media production, to community organizing, to policy—that power shifts can happen. A media justice framework ultimately seeks to unify communities, achieving equity and accountability among people and the communities in which they live, work, play, and pray.
Jessica Collins is the associate program director for the Media Literacy Project. She trains youth, designs curriculum, and produces multimedia resources on the topics of gender, race, and class issues in the media, reality TV, news media, media literacy for financial literacy and health, body image, and media making. Jessica received a B.A. in Media Arts from the University of New Mexico.
Andrea Quijada is the executive director of NMMLP and delivers media literacy presentations and trainings—in New Mexico, across the USA and internationally—at professional and student conferences, at community forums, on college campuses, and in middle schools and high schools. She leads workshops for students, teachers, media activists, community organizers and health professionals. Andrea also presents twice a year at NMMLP’s Catalyst Institute.