Empowering Change: Youth-Led Social Movements Driving Social Justice and Diversity

Meeta Banerjee, PhD, Chair

Assistant Professor of Psychology
University of South Carolina
[email protected]

About: Meeta Banerjee received her Ph.D. in Ecological-Community Psychology with a specialization in Applied Developmental Science from Michigan State University in 2012.  As a Jacobs Foundation Pathways to Adulthood postdoctoral fellow, she worked directly with Dr. Jacque Eccles at the University of Michigan and was also an NIH minority postdoctoral scholar.  Prior to her Ph.D., she received her M.S.W. and B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 2003 and 2001, respectively. Her research employs both integrative and ecological frameworks to understand the influence of contextual factors on the developmental trajectories in underrepresented minority youth and families.

My research examines the interaction between ecological contexts (e.g., schools, families, neighborhoods, communities and racial discrimination) and parenting practices and how these processes directly and indirectly influence psychosocial and educational outcomes. I am particularly interested how race-related processes in the family (e.g., parental ethnic-racial socialization, parents’ racial identities) influence adjustment in ethnic minority youth.

Three overarching goals guide my work: 1) To describe the influence of contextual factors on parenting goals and practices in ethnic minority families; 2) To elucidate how ethnic-racial socialization may be adaptive for individuals in both race-related and non-race related contexts on youth outcomes; and 3) To explicate how the association between ethnic-racial socialization and context varies as a function of developmental period, from early to late adolescence.

Dr. Banerjee utilizes a variety of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to reach her goals of her work with ethnic minority communities. Additionally, in utilizing community-based participatory research methodologies she has been conducting research in Michigan and California, and is beginning on some new projects in South Carolina.

Alaina Brenick, PhD, Chair
Associate Professor
Human Development and Family Sciences
University of Connecticut
[email protected]

About: Alaina Brenick (she | her) is a scholar-activist and Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut. She received a pre-doctoral traineeship from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to obtain her Ph.D. (University of Maryland) prior to completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Friedrich Schiller Universität of Jena, Germany.

Through a social justice lens, Dr. Brenick analyzes how diverse social groups—often with vastly different societal structures, norms, and expectations—experience, reason about, and respond to intergroup relations, bias-based victimization, and systemic discrimination. Using a social-ecological framework to analyze micro- and macro-system influences on these factors, her work is designed to be applied directly to policy, practice, and social action. Dr. Brenick’s research provides a fundamental knowledge base for creating multifaceted, contextually, and developmentally appropriate intervention programs designed to promote compassion, empathy, positive intergroup relations, and social equity. Through her work she enacts change by reducing individual prejudice and systemic oppression to promote socially just and equitable communities.  Dr. Brenick prioritizes service that drives anti-bias, diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice in the field.

Dr. Josefina Bañales, PhD, Moderator

Assistant Professor
Community and Applied Developmental Psychology
University Illinois, Chicago
[email protected]

About: Josefina Bañales, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Community and Applied Developmental Psychology Area at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research examines how racially and ethnically minoritized youth develop beliefs, feelings, and actions that challenge racism (i.e., youth critical racial consciousness development). In collaboration with youth, schools, parents, and community organizations, she co-creates opportunities that facilitate youths’ critical racial consciousness development. Dr. Bañales infuses her personal experiences as a Mexican American woman who is a first-generation high school, college, and doctoral student from the Southwest side of Chicago with her community-engaged research with youth of color in schools and community organizations. Dr. Bañales loves hot black coffee, singing, and walking at a very leisurely pace.

Julio Flores, Panelist
Program Director
Illinois Safe School Alliance

Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago


The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, a program of the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago (PHIMC)

About: Julio Flores (Program Director, Illinois Safe School Alliance) is an accomplished leader and forward-thinking strategist with more than ten years of expertise in youth social services, program development, operations, direct-care services, and management. Known for creative multitasking, adept at leveraging team-building skills to offer clear direction while also excelling as an individual contributor in various projects. As Program Director, Julio provides strategic leadership for the Illinois Safe School Alliance, a statewide program that promotes safety, support, and healthy development for LGBTQ+ youth in Illinois schools and communities. Illinois Safe Schools Alliance supports young people in creating the world they want to live in through the power of advocacy, education, youth organizing, and research.