On Purpose: Portrait of Minnesota Youth Story Squad

To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

Irma O'meara, Tank Davis, Vernon Rowe (seated), Danna Rizo gathered in a library, wearing matching T-shirts

Minnesota Youth Story Squad (MYSS) amplifies the voices of young people in the Twin Cities. Too often, stories about youth and urban public schools are told from the perspective of almost everyone but youth. But MYSS goes directly to the source: young people and their Twin Cities schools. We seek to inspire and engage youth by deepening their knowledge about society and public engagement while they learn how to advocate for change. 

Co-led by Professor Jigna Desai and Research Associate Kari Smalkoski from the Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, MYSS builds partnerships and conducts research in public schools based on core principles of community engagement: mutual benefit, reciprocity, and respect. 

We address inequality by tackling critical issues of equity, advocacy, and academic engagement. Our team of faculty, researchers, undergraduates, and graduate students mentor youth, leading discussions on social issues as we reflect together on their schools, families, communities, and futures.

Our innovative digital media curriculum uses storytelling to enhance learning and harness young people’s creativity through spoken word poetry, zines, protest posters, and video-making. They address issues from racism and sexism to mental health and climate change, ultimately creating digital stories that are infused with passion.

We have worked with over one thousand students at Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School in St. Paul and Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis. The majority of these students will be the first in their families to attend a four-year college. After completing our program, 81 percent of participating youth now imagine college in their future. We are proud to work with youth in Minneapolis and St. Paul and to partner with their public schools.

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