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  • Transdisciplinary and Community Literacies:Shifting Discourses and Practices through New Paradigms of Public Scholarship and Action-Oriented Research
  • Adela C. Licona (bio) and Stephen T. Russell (bio)

In 2010, we received a nationally competitive grant from the Ford Foundation to undertake cross-disciplinary, community-engaged work to shift public conversations around youth sexuality, health, and rights (YSHR). We came to the projects from our positions as a humanities scholar (Licona) and as a social science scholar (Russell). According to the Ford Foundation, "a deeper understanding of human sexuality is an essential element of human rights and healthy social relationships." Beginning with this assumption, we seek to be informed by and to inform policies and local practices; to initiate broad conversations that address sexual health and healthy sexualities for youth; and ultimately to develop innovative collaborations, programs, and research.

We proposed and were funded to: 1) engage in action-oriented research; 2) train cross-disciplinary sexuality scholars; and 3) produce strategic communications that would allow for our collaborative research to circulate meaningfully throughout academic and non-academic contexts. Community literacies are relevant to each of these goals, as they must necessarily inform participatory research and its circulation. By "community literacies" we mean not only the lived, relational, and situated knowledges that circulate in and across communities, but also the ways in which those knowledges are produced and communicated.

With our funding, we established the Crossroads Collaborative, a think-and-do tank that brings together University of Arizona faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate student scholars, youth-oriented community partners, and local youth to understand what and how young people learn about the dimensions and intersections of the full spectrum of their identities and what it all means for their sexualities, health, rights, and well-being. Our grant was one of six such grants in the US that year. Instead of taking already established research agendas to a community, grantees worked to develop their research agendas with communities to address topics deemed by the community to be locally relevant and connected to youth sexuality, health, and rights (YSHR). The projects that were funded, and are delineated in this special issue, hold the potential to critically and creatively address the possibilities and constraints that often exist simultaneously in community contexts. These local possibilities and constraints aid and/or prohibit youth access to sexuality and health knowledge, information, and resources that are basic human rights. The same possibilities and constraints are at play when youth attempt to express themselves about these issues and others regarding their sexual and gender identities. Articles here highlight the ways in which literacy practices produce and inform, as well as are produced and informed by, these very possibilities and constraints and the broad social issues, relations, policies, and practices from which they emerge.

Our own research at the Crossroads Collaborative began in a context of "legislated intolerance,"1 which initiated and enforced restrictions on particular bodies, [End Page 1] groups of people, and bodies of knowledge. After Arizona became known as having passed the most regressive anti-immigrant and anti-immigration legislation in decades, other states quickly followed suit. Through our collaborations at this historic moment, we worked with youth who responded to repressive conditions with creativity, knowledge, curiosity, and advocacy. In yearly grantee gatherings, we learned that others shared similar experiences with youth in their communities. Across projects, we learned that youth care: they are interested in learning, and in participating in learning environments that are respectful, meaningful, and culturally relevant. They have dreams, desires, ideas, and demands, as well as fears and uncertainties. They are interested in productive social change, particularly regarding issues that affect their lives as multiply situated historic and sexual subjects. Across these diverse research/ community collaborations, we learned that changing the status quo requires increased understanding of youth perspectives and support for amplifying their voices, and their multi-modal literacies, as they claim their collective right to knowledges that are meaningful to their lives. The projects in this special collection demonstrate multiple approaches to understanding youth perspectives, including approaches that are implicitly and explicitly about the literacies that informed and contextualized each project. Such situated literacies2 were expressed and exchanged between community organizations...


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