"Fostering students’ sense of agency and ownership over the communities to which they belong"

Inherent to growing up in contemporary urban settings in the USA are stark disparities in diverse young people’s experiences across various contexts through which they navigate on a day-to-day basis. Home, neighborhood, and school environments, to name only a few, differ vastly across urban communities. The contemporary New York City context is characterized by blatant socioeconomic disparities across different neighborhoods, which many of the Bronx Community College (BCC) students experience as they traverse from one community environment to another. Together with BCC students, we established the Narrating NYC Research Team [hyperlink the bold text to the Team page] in fall of 2015 to embark on an exploration of BCC students’ experiences of diverse environments that are important in their everyday lives.


The overarching aim of Narrating NYC is to foster students’ sense of agency and ownership over the communities to which they belong. Together, the Narrating NYC Research Team explored students’ perspectives on what matters to them – what they see as the most important private and public spaces in their lives – using photography and storytelling to direct the gaze toward issues of importance. To best meet our project aims, we adopted a community-based participatory action research (PAR) approach, where

we engaged in research with, instead of on or about, communities/participants. Creating a research team was important because we wanted our participant-researchers to take the lead in the project, with our role as facilitators. We believe that those most intimately impacted by research should play an active role in choosing and shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful products and actions.


In bi-weekly workshops the Narrating NYC Research Team received training in, and engaged with, PAR methods, digital photography and geo-tagging, urban environmental sustainability, short video-making, and digital storytelling. Between the meetings, through bi-weekly photo narrative missions, the research team spent the 2015-2016 academic year exploring what they like and dislike about their communities, what they see as the sources of the disparities they may observe, and their sense-making about their own agency regarding their impact on these environments. The project culminated in our “Photo Tales of NYC” final photo exhibition [link bold text to Exhibition page] open to the Bronx community, where participants shared their photo narratives and experiences from the past year. We often explored seemingly personal and private experiences of our team members, which only during our weekly meetings and discussions would reveal deeply social and political dimensions. This is exactly what PAR approach has power to

do—to map out the relationships between social structures and injustices in everyday life experiences by engaging with an analysis of how the intimate and global intertwine.


Throughout the project, we worked with the research team to transform their photo narratives into digital stories that will advocate for change, engage fellow community members, celebrate communities they are

proud of, and envision ideal sustainable futures. These are the stories

you will find within our projects’ Digital Storytelling for Change website.

This website is meant to serve as a tool that advocates for change,

engages fellow community members, celebrate communities the Narrating NYC Research Team is proud of, and imagine ideal sustainable futures.