Way has spent her academic career working to dispel such negative myths and stereotypes and to bring forward what she calls 'the missing voices' in developmental psychology.
'Huge misconceptions exist about urban teenagers,' says Niobe Way, Associate Professor of Applied Psychology. 'Most people's impression of these kids is that their lives are about gangs, drugs, violence, and teen pregnancy.'
Way has spent her academic career working to dispel such negative myths and stereotypes and to bring forward what she calls 'the missing voices' in developmental psychology. She is the author (or co-author) of three books including Everyday Courage: The Lives and Stories of Urban Adolescents and Growing Up Fast, which was awarded the 2002 Best Book Award for Social Policy from the Society of Research on Adolescence. She is the recipient of grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation.
Way earned her doctorate in human development from Harvard, where she studied with Carol Gilligan, whose ground-breaking research has focused on the missing voices of girls and women in developmental theory. As her studies progressed, Way began to recognize that the experiences of inner-city youth were also absent from developmental theory.
'Theories about how young people navigate adolescence have been largely based on studies of predominantly white suburban schools,' Way says. 'But I have learned in thousands of conversations with urban teens in New York City and elsewhere that their experiences are also helpful in teaching us about normative developmental processes.'
She has found, for example, that while most teenagers desire friendships with their peers, they often develop a strong distrust of them as they go through adolescence. This distrust often leads to the complete rupture of close friendships by the time teens reach late adolescence.
Way and her colleagues are working to build a community of trust and support between urban youth and their teachers at the University Neighborhood High School, a public school on Manhattan's Lower East Side that was created with assistance from The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Using the school as their research site, Way and 15 graduate and undergraduate students are studying how urban youth experience friendships and family relationships and develop a sense of identity.
Way hopes that 'the insights that emerge from the interviews that we are conducting will help schools better support the social and emotional growth of their students.'