Youth for Healthy Schools

A RYSE Youth Member Shares Her Experience in Youth Participatory Action Research

RYSE Center, based out of Richmond, CA, hosts Brian Villa, one of the Healthy Communities III Fellows. RYSE creates safe spaces grounded in social justice for young people to love, learn, educate, heal, and transform lives and communities. Their programs include Youth Organizing, Community Health, Education + Justice and Media, Arts + Culture.

Healthy Communities III is a fellowship program connected to eight youth organizing groups in the West, South, Northeast and Southwest. Each group hosts a Healthy Communities Fellow who leads their school and community wellness work and connects it to state and national strategies for change including community education and engagement and policy development and implementation.

Brian worked with Dashia, a young person in RYSE’s program, to share her story and research on the Youth Participatory Action Research project they conducted to understand violence/bullying based on gender and sexuality. One of the Healthy Communities III priorities is healthy school climates, and campaigns that support the social  and emotional health of students:

MDashiay name is Dashia and I am a RYSE youth member, a Public Health intern, and Richmond Air Quality Initiative intern. Through my Public Health internship, my co-interns and I conducted a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project on gender and sexual based violence. We surveyed around 100 local students and held interviews and focus groups to understand how youth experience violence/bullying based on their gender and sexuality, and to create safer spaces.

My favorite part about the RYSE programs I am involved with is just being able to do good for my community. I enjoy doing things that I know will have a direct effect on the community I live in. My favorite experience with the Public Health Internship would have to be speaking at the National Conference of Health and Domestic Violence in San Francisco. I was proud of the fact that I could speak at a national conference with different nurses, doctors, grad students, and service providers. It made me feel special because I was one of the youngest representatives on the panel and I was able to inform everyone on the research I conducted.

To me, youth power is when youth come together to uplift each other and fight for what we believe is right. It is when we learn to recognize our own voices and understand that we can make change in our community. At RYSE, we see youth power in every direction.

RYSE is filled with youth who are passionate and wise. Youth Power in RYSE is knowing that we have a voice and how to use it. Youth power shows up by simply claiming RYSE as their safe place where they are free to express themselves. Throughout my internships RYSE has helped me find my youth power. RYSE exposed me to something new and allowed me to find my passion in social and environmental justice. They also taught me how to be more confident in my ideas and more comfortable with speaking in front of adults.

Dashia’s Interview with RYSE on the YPAR Public Health Internship20170929_091551 (1)

How did you initially feel about the internship and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project?

Dashia: Initially, I wasn’t interested that much in YPAR. I joined an internship over the summer because I wanted to get paid. I expected it to be boring and extremely complicated. It was something that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy that much. However, throughout the YPAR process, I became more interested and even grew a love for it. I loved the fact that my project related to my community and myself. I was able to shed light to a problem and suggest ways to solve it.

What information/workshop/presentation stood out most during your preparation?

Dashia: A workshop that stood out the most to me was the cycle of violence.  We talked about how everyone is born with the same basic needs. When babies grow up without these basic needs, it affects their health outcomes and how they navigate the world.  

Describe your experiences creating surveys, and conducting focus groups/interview? How did it feel gathering data from youth in your community?

Dashia: For our quantitative research strategies, we chose to do surveys. Creating the surveys was difficult. We had brainstormed many questions and it was challenging to word and order them in the right way without creating bias. We also conducted qualitative focus groups as part of our action plan. We were able to have deeper conversations about people’s experiences with gender based violence.

How did the data findings impact you?

Dashia: When we analyzed our data, I was not surprised at the results but it still moved me. Only 40% of female identified participants said they felt safe based on their gender compared to 90% of male identified participants. This moved me because I could relate to the data. I knew that I didn’t feel safe based on my gender, however, I didn’t know that the people around me felt the same. It made me look at my community in a different lens because I realized that it wasn’t a personal problem but it was a community problem. I am able to see that as a community we need to come together and fight against gender based violence and help the youth heal.

What action plans did you initiate based on your data findings?

Dashia: Our action plan included presenting to local organizations, facilitating focus groups and launching a social media campaign with our findings. Presenting our findings was an empowering experience. It was very rewarding because I was able to inform people on research that hasn’t been done in our community. I felt proud of our findings because I know that it can bring attention to an ongoing issue. I felt that allowing people to see the issues will encourage them to do something about it.

What was the most rewarding experience during the project?

Dashia: YPAR is not just a project to me. It is a shift in your mindset. It allows you to open your eyes and become aware of the challenges around you and the role you play in it. This process has reassured me on my career plans. I want to become a psychologist so I can help people who are experiencing problems in their personal lives, including gender based violence. I will use the skills I gained from my YPAR project for the rest of my life.


The following case study highlights the experience of Dashia Wright and her co-public health YPAR researchers. Their research topics, findings and testimonials summarize their inquiry and recommended responses to the interconnected issues of gender and sexual based violence/bullying and the use of drugs as a primary coping strategy for young people in Richmond.

YPAR on Gender and Sexual-Based Violence and Bullying
Conducted by: Dashia Wright, Paul Ruiz, Lily Boonnam

Topic: Gender and Sexual Based Violence and Bullying
Issue: Young people experience gender and sexual based violence/bullying in our community
Purpose: To understand how young people experience and are impacted by gender and sexual based violence. To create safer spaces and a culture of education and prevention
Research Question(s): How are young people impacted by gender and sexual based violence? What supports do young people need in order to feel safe?
Theoretical Frameworks: Youth researchers read articles on gender justice, intersectionality, and oppression.
Methodology: Mixed Methods Data Collection
Data Findings: Quantitative data was gathered from 130 Surveys conducted between June 2017 and August 2017. Qualitative data was gathered through 10 semi-structured interviews conducted between June 2017 and August 2017. Focus Groups were conducted as part of the action plan between October 2017 and November 2017


Interview and Focus Group Quotes

“Well it (gender violence) happens to girls all the time…in social media…girls who like girls are sexualized. For guys who like guys it’s wrong.”

“Gender violence is just an issue for gay people”

“There is a double standard in schools where girls are targeted more for how they dress”

“People are asleep. They are not woke. You see it (gender violence) all the time. You get on your phone you see it. You turn on the TV you see it. You walk on the street, you see it. People are looking but they are not trying to do anything. They think it doesn’t affect them.”

Data Recap: Analysis/Conclusion:

According to our surveys, about 80% of male-identified respondents felt safe based on their gender vs. 40% of female-identified respondents. Participants saw violence, bullying, and stereotypes based on gender and sexuality mainly in social media, schools, TV, and in their neighborhood. Majority of participants said they were only sometimes likely to step in when seeing gender violence. 76% of respondents answered 1-3; not familiar to somewhat familiar with gender based violence. Young people say that they see gender and sexual based violence everywhere, but they indicated that they generally feel safe. This shows that young people are normalizing gender violence. Most male-identified respondents of color indicated that they believe that gender justice was a “gay issue” and that they don’t have anything to do with it.  This reflects the data finding on how most young people indicated that they do not know or understand what gender violence is. Most straight male and female-identified students feel safer compared to LGBTQ students. Majority of female-identified youth believe that women are often targeted and sexualized. Students indicated that they need more education and workshops. They want to get involved, but don’t know how to. We need more opportunities and spaces to have conversations about gender based violence and bullying.

Action Plan:

Focus Groups: After analyzing the initial data, the public health interns decided to do focus groups with RYSE’s different identity groups in order to gather more information and to create more opportunities to have deeper conversations about gender based violence and gender justice. They created activities and discussion questions and facilitated their focus groups with RYSE’s young women’s group, young men’s group, and LGBTQQ group. After conducting the focus groups the interns concluded that they wanted to host a gender caucus between the groups and have a deeper dialogue.

Social Media Campaign/PSA: The data findings indicated that youth mostly see gender and sexual based violence on social media. One way the interns wanted to address this issue was to start building a social media campaign/public service announcements to help spread awareness of gender-based violence and their research.

Presentations: The public health interns presented their research in numerous spaces including: National Conference for Health and Domestic Violence, DeAnza High School Health Academy Board Meeting, and the RYSE Center


Trainings/workshops for teachers, admin, and students on gender justice and how to address gender and sexual based violence with youth

  • Since a majority of students see stereotypes at school, we need more opportunities and events to educate each other and make schools more inclusive.
  • Support groups for young women, young men, and lgbtq students, connecting students with resources in school and organizations out of school.

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