“Working Across Sectors” Q&A: Corianna Sichel

“Working Across Sectors” Q&A: Corianna Sichel

Corianna Sichel, PhD student in Counseling Psychology, Department of Applied Psychology, was a panelist at “Working Across Sectors to Support Vulnerable Youth in Schools” on Friday, June 1. Read our Q&A below and then watch her discuss these important issues with faculty, advocates, researchers, and leaders

What is E-Responder and how did it come about?

E-Responder is a collaborative project between researchers at NYU Steinhardt and the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. E-Responder came about because frontline staff working with youth at risk for gun violence began reporting that kids were getting into online altercations, which were translating into real-world violence. Previous strategies for intervention had depended primarily on in-person interactions, and so these staff weren’t sure how to most effectively cope with these “virtual threats.”

One goal of E-Responder is to support youth in developing social media self-efficacy and critical consumption of, and engagement with, social media. How did you and your colleagues come up with this “digital citizenship” approach?

That’s a great question. As researchers we of course went to the literature and found substantial support for engaging kids with online content in a socio-politically informed, strengths-based way. We also drew on our collective experiences working with, and previously being, kids. We knew that simply telling youth to stop using the internet was a no-go, so we wanted to figure out how we could support internet and social media use to promote health and long-term wellbeing. Kids are exquisitely aware of the world in which they live. Knowing this, we wanted to provide them with opportunities to share and process what they observe and confront in their day-to-day lives. The frontline staff members we worked with talked about “promoting peace,” and that phrase became something of a touchstone for our work together.

You mentioned “promoting peace” as a touchstone for E-Responder. What were some other goals of the intervention, and how did you address these goals?

In addition to preventing the escalation of online provocation into in-person violence and supporting kid’s digital citizenship, our third goal was really to support frontline staff already working with youth. These staff ranged in their exposure to and comfort levels with social media. Some were already using it in their work with youth, while others had a lot of questions about what to do and not to do around kid’s online content. So, we created a 24-lesson, evidence-informed Youth Leadership Curriculum and an Interruption Toolkit. Staff were trained on facilitating the Curriculum, which provided them with opportunities to engage kids in conversations about online safety and risk. Meanwhile, the Toolkit integrated best-practices from the research literature with feedback from frontline staff to provide context-appropriate, evidence-based strategies enabling staff to effectively use social media in their work with youth.

What future research or organizational partnerships could strengthen E-Responder?

There is a ton of potential for future research and partnership. One of the key takeaways for me from this work thus far has been the importance of close collaboration not only with other institutions but also with frontline staff who work directly with kids every day. Another take-away was how little we know about the internet in general, and social media in particular, as a context. Many of the ways I think about “environment” or “context” as a social scientist are bounded by time and place – you can see that in studies of things like school climate. Social media transcends all of those place/space/time barriers; it’s with us everywhere, all the time. There’s a lot to be learned.

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