January 2019: M-Passioned Member Abby Kiesa

What do you do?
I serve as the Director of Impact at CIRCLE, which is part of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. At CIRCLE, we conduct and leverage research on youth civic engagement to close systemic gaps in young people’s civic opportunities. CIRCLE is founded in values that support research-practice partnerships, and using both forms of expertise to affect equitable democracy. This means I think a lot about and listen for what research the field needs, and about how we can all work together using research-informed strategies across our siloes to affect change towards more equitable civic opportunities and more representative democracy.

Abby Kiesa

Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
CIRCLE is a co-lead with The LAMP on the 22×20 campaign, which is a cross-field network of organizations across the country integrating youth voice, media creation and talking about elections. This campaign is important to me because of what I’ve seen working to support youth participation in elections – for one, too often the fields within and related to youth engagement don’t work together, but we must to fully prepare more youth to have the skills to make their voices heard; additionally, because of how elections are funded, outreach often waits until people reach 18, which research suggests is too late to prevent inequities in participation. The 22×20 campaign is focusing on youth before they reach 18 so they are ready when they do.

Why is media literacy important to you?
Media literacy is a critical civic skill necessary for engagement in a diverse democracy and building cultures of engagement. For US culture to encourage and support more diverse youth voices, young people and their co-conspirators need to create their own media, challenge media to represent communities more accurately, and youth engagement more accurately. This can build stronger norms of engagement, and when media literacy skills are taught with this sort of agency involved, then further civic development and engagement is more likely. I think communities are stronger when youth have agency and media meet their information needs.

What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
Two things that are integrally related to youth *using* media literacy skills: 1) more diverse youth voices represented in authentic ways on issues facing communities, and 2) efforts on the part of local media to uplift more diverse youth voices on these issues in partnership with youth.

Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
At CIRCLE, we believe that continuous learning, supportive networks and key partnerships are critical to systems change. No one organization is going to make scaled change towards equitable democratic participation alone. Since democratic participation encompasses a lot of skills, attitudes and actions, of which media literacy is a part, I believe we need to learn from one another’s expertise and work together to build sustainable systems that support youth from historically marginalized communities to have civic power.

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