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Imagining Students as the Solution: Redefining Youth, Starting With 'Our' Stories

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In this world, everyone has a story. In the United States of America, everyone who has a story has the right to tell it. Our stories are the culmination of our social experiences which influence our future actions. For many, the voicing of their personal stories is the initiation of their civic engagement and their desire to influence social and political change within broader society.

Tomorrow, my generation will inherit the issues of today. We can't begin to solve the problems of today, if we don't include the voices of the participants, organizers, and leaders of tomorrow. To every administrator in every sector: are you prepared to listen to the stories of your youth? Are you prepared to include your youth in the decision making process of your institution? As a democratic nation, your most valuable resource is your students and the diversity of their narratives. It is time you start acknowledging their potential and incorporating them in your solution-making process.

As a young adult myself, and a Student Voice organizer, it is easy for me to advocate for youth engagement and inclusion in the decision making process. Unfortunately, my views are not always shared by many adult leaders who may have preconceived notions about the capability of youth participation in policy discussions. As a society, we must investigate the origin of this limited understanding deeply rooted in our culture.

The ways in which young people are traditionally portrayed in relation to adults in media have strongly influenced our culture and language in the way we talk about youth in America. The American sitcom has introduced the popular narrative of youth portrayed as "children" typified by innocence or burden in relation to adults. The nightly news headlines are notorious for portraying youth as often times villainous or foolish. While this isn't the entire representation of youth across media, when we look at the majority of the portrayals of youth in relation to adults in traditional media, how often do we see young people positively collaborating and problem-solving with adults? The truth is, we don't. Put the remote down (for now). The best place to find young people collaborating on solutions is within new media and the internet.

In order to start including young people in policy discussions, we have to begin to change the way that we frame our conversations about youth in America. We have to trust our youth, and that starts with listening to their stories. We have to begin to change the way we view the potential of young people, and how we can create equitable opportunities that harness the abundance of talent in our most valuable resource. The day young people are seen as equally capable of collaborating in policy solutions will be the day ageism is not widely expressed in the United States of America. For a nation as "young" as the United States, it's time we start acting like it.

Join the conversation coming from Student Voice Live! presented by Dell in NYC on 4/13 via livestream - http://del.ly/StuVoiceLive. Follow #StuVoice and @Stu_Voice on Twitter for more.