Eyes on Parkland

Understanding Youth Civic Engagement in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting


  • Whitney Gecker Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
  • Astraea Augsberger Boston University
  • Mary Elizabeth Collins Boston University
  • Kelsey Barber Father Bill’s & MainSpring


youth civic engagement, Parkland, Florida, social justice, gun violence


Youth are currently participating in civic and social life, often using social media and organizing in ways unique to their generation. In this position paper we apply several theoretical frameworks to the specific case of youth civic engagement in the aftermath of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to identify lessons about youth participation. The institutional adultism the Parkland students faced warrants a closer look at both the assets and challenges youth and adults face when entering youth-adult partnerships. We call for future research to continue unpacking the intersectional, contextual, and power-laden dynamics of youth civic engagement.

Author Biographies

Whitney Gecker, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Whitney Gecker is an Assistant Professor in the department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Their work focuses on the relationship between youth development and place, with a particular interest in the suburbs, privilege, and the intersection of race and class. In addition to work on youth civic engagement, Whitney recently conducted an ethnographic study of youth experiences of privilege and diversity in an elite suburb.

Astraea Augsberger, Boston University

Astraea Augsberger is an Assistant Professor at Boston University School of Social Work. She earned her MSW and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She has over a decade of clinical practice experience with children, youth and families in the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems. Her research interests include youth civic engagement, youth participation, child welfare policy and programs, and health equity. She employs community-engaged research, youth participatory action research, and in-depth qualitative research methods to elevate the voices of youth and communities in identifying research priorities and relevant solutions to community concerns.

Mary Elizabeth Collins, Boston University

Mary Elizabeth Collins is Professor and Department Chair of Social Welfare Policy at Boston University School of Social Work. Her research focuses on child welfare policy, youth aging out of care, youth civic engagement and social welfare policy. She is the author of Macro Perspectives on Youth Aging Out of Care and over 80 articles and chapters.

Kelsey Barber, Father Bill’s & MainSpring

Kelsey Barber is a rehousing case manager at Father Bill’s & MainSpring. She earned her MSW from Boston University in 2019, and has a Masters of Applied Anthropology from Georgia State University. She has over five years of experience in nonprofit settings, including a no-cost dental clinic, a community development corporation and an outreach ministry for people experiencing homelessness. During her graduate education, she assisted in several participatory action research projects focused on youth civic engagement, community organizing, and the impact of gentrification on low-income communities.