eight people pose for a photo outside sitting on some large rocks.

Elevating youth voices

Note: Banner image of Antunes and Youth Voices students taken in 2019. 

black and white headshot of Ana Antunes.

Ana Antunes, assistant professor in the Division of Gender Studies.

A faculty member in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation (Transform) is receiving national recognition for her social justice and community-engagement work. Ana Antunes, an assistant professor in the division of Gender Studies, was recently honored in a letter by her fellow members of the Urban Research Based Action Network (URBAN) leadership team.

“Ana’s work in spearheading and facilitating a key cross-disciplinary organization that advocates for and supports community-engaged scholarship in education, sociology, urban studies and other disciplines signals the high standards that the University of Utah has both for producing scholars and for cultivating them in early career,” the letter states.

Antunes’ work is grounded in her desire to create pathways for youth of color into the University of Utah and to help them thrive once they are here. In addition to her role as a faculty member, Antunes collaborates closely with University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), which works to bring together University of Utah and west side community members and resources in reciprocal learning, action and benefit.

“It feels like stunning fortune to encounter the expertise of Dr. Antunes,” said Kathryn Bond Stockton, dean of Transform. “Her approach to broadening intellectual community is simply vanguard. She deepens her own formidable wisdom by listening to youth at every turn. In the process, she is making us all smarter by collectively crafting structures for listening that bring indispensable voices forward.”

Antunes works with Youth Voices, a partnership that supports youth at the UNP Hartland Partnership Center to develop and lead action research projects in the community. The partnership works through a tiered-mentorship structure, with faculty mentoring west side University of Utah alumna, alumna mentoring current undergrads and undergrads mentoring high school students.

“Ana is the embodiment of the community-engaged scholar,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director for community engaged scholarship at UNP. “Her expertise in research and teaching are second only to her commitment to youth as scholars and change agents. She believes so strongly in young people’s ability to study, theorize about and transform the world around them. And her work demonstrates how right she is. We’re so thankful to Gender Studies and Transform for the opportunity to work with Ana, and for the impact Ana has had in our communities.”

All of the youth and staff involved in Youth Voices are people of color, and it is their hope, said Antunes, that the tiered mentoring program helps people of color become role models for members of their community and develops a pathway into higher education.

“The students are amazing and I learn so much from them every day,” said Antunes. “Plus, going to Hartland is like going home. As a woman of color and an immigrant, even after all these years, campus can feel really intimidating. It feels good to be around people who are so welcoming.”

High school students and mentors receive university credit for the work they develop in the program. Last year, the Youth Voices group was working on two research projects: one that sought to understand the historical root of police presence in schools, and another that sought to understand why schools with diverse populations are still self-segregated.

“The projects came to a halt due to COVID-19 and the move to online instruction, but we are now working with the digital archives of the library and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and looking at, in regard to immigration, who is missing in the archive,” said Antunes. “Though Utah has a long history of immigrants of color, we are not finding them in the visual archives. Our research and art project seek to call attention to that.”

As a leader of the national URBAN and a co-chair of the local URBAN Utah chapter, Antuntes is helping bridge gaps between university researchers and community partners. In April, she and her colleagues will be releasing an updated set of guidelines for academics and communities who want to build research partnerships. She is also helping to create a new class on community-based research which will launch in the fall 2021 semester.

“We want to make sure university-community partnerships are equitable and reciprocal,” said Antunes. “When we focus only on our campus, we miss so many opportunities to learn from and with communities about how we can transform our world together. Community-based research has the potential to bring about real social change but only when we are equal partners. UNP has a long history among westside communities and through this partnership I can really build a strong foundation for my work.”