Youth Summit Hosted by Syracuse University and White House

By Timothy K. Eatman and Jamie Haft

A panel about solutions to societal issues with (from left to right) Ankur Bajaj, undergraduate student, Cornell University; Symone Campbell, student, Nottingham High School; Semaj Campbell, student, Nottingham High School; and Marion Wilson, faculty member, Syracuse University. Photo by Stephen Sartori.

At the January 10 White House launch of the American Commonwealth Partnership, Syracuse University was invited to be one of 17 campuses across the country to host a youth summit as part of the “White House Young America Series.” We seized the opportunity to rally high school and college students in Central New York. The event’s framework was Syracuse University’s call for Scholarship in Action, and the national coalition Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life’s vision to realize the democratic purposes of American higher education. The program planning committee included representatives from the Central New York Chapter of Publicly Active Graduate Education, Imagining America Engagement Fellows, and the student government associations of Syracuse and Cornell University. The April 18, three-hour event provided a platform for 150 students in the region to share their experiences partnering with communities to address local problems, and for students to engage two young White House representatives: Victoria McCullough, Office of Public Engagement, and Samuel Ryan, Department of Education.

Azhar Ali, undergraduate student, Syracuse University, speaking on what “inclusive urban education” means to him. Photo by Stephen Sartori.

Participants discussed race, class, and disability issues in the education system; environmental sustainability; and how the humanities, arts, and design can be used to positively affect these issues. To probe the issues’ complexity, a mix of formats was employed: panel discussion, personal testimony, presentation, spoken word performance, and dialogue with the audience. Using a Twitter hashtag, there was virtual exchange during the event among attendees and those watching via live web stream. To view the event video, go to

Recognizing that all organizing is reorganizing, Imagining America and Syracuse University are using the event’s energy to launch the contest, “From Story to Screen,” in which students submit narratives about their civic engagement. The winners will have their stories professionally produced as a short video for national distribution.

Attendees of the event, “White House Young America: Live from Syracuse University.” Photo by Stephen Sartori.

Other participants, too, are using the momentum to act on change, and discussing how to connect their efforts to the movement building of the American Commonwealth Partnership.

Timothy K. Eatman is research director for Imagining America and assistant professor of higher education at Syracuse University. Jamie Haft is communications manager for Imagining America and is completing her master’s degree at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Click here for more stories about the work of the Student Organizing Group.

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