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Nicole M. Overstreet

Lisa Rosenthal      

Understanding Experiences of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter with Youth Participatory Action Research

Nicole M. Overstreet, Associate Professor, Clark University
Lisa Rosenthal, Associate Professor, Pace University

We met as post-docs about 9 years ago and have increasingly collaborated and become close friends since. Our relationship has always involved a central valuing and critical engagement with intersectionality (e.g., Collins, 2019; Combahee River Collective, 1977; Crenshaw, 1989), our understanding of which has deepened and shifted over time, including considerably within the past couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic and global uprisings of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement over the past year, in combination with other global and local events as well as personal experiences, have intensified our critical self-reflection about our relationships with academia, the field of psychology, and liberation movements. This project grows out of that critical self-reflection and our desire to radically transform our work to prioritize contributing to intersectional revolution and the liberation and thriving of oppressed peoples.

Specifically, in this project we are employing youth participatory action research (YPAR), which empowers young people as leading partners collaborating with adults in all aspects of research, focuses on addressing critical issues facing youth and their communities, and uses research to enact and inform activism and social change (Anyon et al., 2018; Fine & Torre, 2019). We are currently collaborating with a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students at Clark and Pace Universities to learn about YPAR as we start working on this project.

Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), as well as other marginalized communities in the U.S., are negatively impacted by COVID-19 at disproportionate rates due to systemic racism and other interconnected systems of power and oppression (COVID Tracking Project, 2020). The BLM movement is led by Black women and LGBTQAI+ folx using an intersectional approach to organizing (e.g., see, including in collaborating with allied activists and social justice movements (e.g., for Indigenous, LGBTQAI+, and Disability Rights/Justice). This movement has again brought increased attention and collective action to dismantle the structural violence of anti-Blackness and white supremacy, combined with other interlocking systems of oppression. Young people in particular are prominent forces for systemic change in BLM and other social movements. Further, engagement in activism is found to have benefits for mental health, including buffering against adverse impacts of racism on mental health among BIPOC youth (e.g., Hope et al., 2018). We as critical social and health psychologists feel urgency to conduct research exploring these major interconnected co-occurring social issues, particularly using an intersectional, community-based, action-oriented approach (e.g., Overstreet, Rosenthal, & Case, 2020).

This project’s main purposes are to:

  1. collaborate with, center, and empower BIPOC youth, especially those who are LGBTQAI+ and/or face other intersecting forms of oppression, to shape, conduct, and utilize research to best support their own and their communities’ well-being;
  2. explore how BIPOC youth and their communities are affected by, responding to, and envisioning their futures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the BLM and other social movements.

We are excited to be on this journey with this project and to share more about it with the SPSSI community as it evolves.


Anyon, Y., Bender, K., Kennedy, H., Dechants, J. (2018). A systematic review of youth participatory action research (YPAR) in the United States: Methodologies, youth outcomes, and future directions. Health Education & Behavior, 45(6), 865-878.

Collins, P.H. (2019). Intersectionality as critical social theory. Durham: Duke University Press.

Combahee River Collective. (1977/1995). Combahee River Collective statement. In B. Guy-Sheftall (Ed.), Words of fire: An anthology of African American feminist thought (pp. 232–240). New York: New Press. (Original work published 1977).

COVID Tracking Project. (2020) The COVID Racial Data Tracker.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.

Fine, M. & Torre, M. E. (2019). Critical participatory action research: A feminist project for validity and solidarity. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 43(4), 433-444.

Hope, E. C., Velez, G., Offidani-Bertrand, C., Keels, M., & Durkee, M. I. (2018). Political activism and mental health among Black and Latinx college students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 24(1), 26–39.

Overstreet, N. M., Rosenthal, L., & Case, K. A. (2020). Intersectionality as a radical framework for transforming our disciplines, social issues, and the world. Journal of Social Issues, 76, 779-795.

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