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News from Ford

1 December 2010

Ford Foundation Awards Grants for Innovative Research on Youth Sexuality

NEW YORK, 1 December 2010 — After a year-long open call for proposals, the Ford Foundation today announced grants totaling $4.1 million to six organizations to design and undertake innovative research on youth sexuality in the United States. The research is intended to provide new data and analysis for public discussion of policies and programs that affect young people's sexual choices and health.

The foundation said it hoped the research would shed new light on the factors shaping youth sexuality at a time when the culture is rapidly diversifying, social media and other social technology are ascendant, and young people are buffeted by destabilizing economic conditions. It also said research into human sexuality is perennially underfunded, concentrated in biomedical disciplines, frequently lacks reference to the lived experiences of young people, and is often politicized by a deep ideological divide.

The winning research teams were selected from more than 200 submissions and are composed of academic institutions working in partnership with established community or policy organizations to explore the social, economic and cultural forces shaping youth sexual understanding and behavior today. In addition to carrying out groundbreaking research, the teams will be supported to actively communicate their findings to inform public conversation, public policies and community programs. Each grant also includes support to train graduate students in sexuality-related research and in how to effectively communicate research findings to key audiences within and beyond academia.

Grants have been awarded to the following research projects:

  • The Public Health Institute and its Center for Research on Adolescent Health and Development in Oakland, California. This team will explore the sexual and reproductive health and rights of foster youth and parent-adolescent communication. The study will also examine the content and effectiveness of current approaches to sexuality education.
  • The University of Arizona, in collaboration with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and YWCA Tucson, will explore relationships between young Latinas and their mothers, the role of fathers in sexual socialization and gender identity development, and how young people are using social media in relation to sexuality.
  • The University of Illinois will investigate how adolescents think about harassment and bullying related to gender, sex and sexuality and whether they view these experiences as unfair or as legitimate ways to regulate their social relationships. This work will be a collaborative effort between researchers in educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.
  • The University of Michigan will explore the sexual health outcomes of economically vulnerable youth in Detroit, including African American girls, transgendered youth and Latinos involved in gangs. Working with Alternatives for Girls, the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation and the Ruth Ellis Center, the project will examine how structural factors (such as social networks, living arrangements and economic contexts), youth coping strategies (ranging from substance abuse to seeking social services) and sexual behaviors all combine to affect health outcomes.
  • San Francisco State University's Health Equity Institute, in collaboration with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and FACES for the Future, will study individual and systemic factors underlying the complexities of adolescent sexuality and childbearing among Latino youth. This will address questions such as how young Latinas balance competing cultural and social values regarding sexuality, pregnancy, parenting and education. The study will also consider the challenges and resiliencies of young parents and develop an understanding of why many sexuality education and pregnancy prevention programs do not effectively reach this community.
  • The Face Value Project, in a collaborative effort with researchers from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and New York University, will examine public attitudes and stereotypes about LGBT sexuality, in particular anxieties associated with perceived harm to children from contact with LGBT adults. The study will explore public stereotypes and beliefs about the vulnerabilities of children; what the public believes about sexual orientation and gender expression; and how social perceptions of children and sexuality intersect with attitudes toward LGBT people and their proximity to children.

"We have long invested in groundbreaking social science research on sexuality, and these new projects represent the next generation of exploration into this very human part of our lives," said Margaret Hempel, Ford's director of Sexuality and Reproductive Health and Rights. "The thing that most excites us about these projects is the explicit commitment of the teams to link their research to public conversation and public policy debate. The evidence from this research really could give voice to some of the struggles young people face today as they search for understanding of their sexuality, and also help advance how we think about programs and policies intended to help them."

The foundation sought and awarded proposals that effectively integrate three elements: rigorous social science research, graduate student training to build the next generation of expertise and knowledge, and a commitment to make the findings accessible in ways that deepen public understanding. Preliminary results from the six research projects will be announced over the next two to three years.

"Our work in this area is motivated by a belief that deeper understanding of human sexuality is essential to healthy social relationships and strengthens our ability to promote the right of all people to sexual health and well being," Hempel said. "We're delighted to support research that we think will contribute to both over time."

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