Reasons Youth Engage in Activism Programs: Social Justice or Sanctuary?

Appeared in ScienceDirect


  • Participants attend youth activism programs for social justice work, but also for sanctuary and peer/adult relationships.

  • Youth defined sanctuary as a protected space but also a place that celebrates aspects of identity.

  • Sanctuary and social justice work were intertwined as reasons for attending.

  • Both sanctuary and social justice motivations should be considered in designing youth activism programs.


Youth activism programs have been studied for their impact on societal change and their contribution to youth development; however, less is known about what motivates youth to engage in such programs. In this study, we draw on survey and focus group data from eight youth activism programs to understand reasons that youth attend. We find that engaging in social justice work was the highest rated reason for participation, followed closely by sanctuary, and lastly, relationships with adults and peers in the program. Analysis of qualitative data highlights the importance of sanctuary—not limited to psychological safety, but with an emphasis on celebrating aspects of identity. Findings also point to important intersections between social justice work and sanctuary, with youth expressing a desire to impact change from protected and affirming spaces that are liberating and allow them to take risks.

Visit ScienceDirect

Melanie Brown