High schoolers tackle systems of gun violence

A few dozen St. Louis area high school students gathered for a summit this summer to discuss how system dynamics can affect gun violence in the community.

The second annual Changing Systems Student Summit took place June 28-July 1 and was sponsored by the Brown School’s Ferguson Seed Fund and Social System Design Lab and the Institute for Public Health, all at Washington University in St. Louis.

The summit considered gun violence through a program designed, led and facilitated by 15 interns from Ritenour and Jennings high schools trained in system dynamics, a method of modeling complex problems. They in turn worked with 28 high school students representing 19 schools in St. Louis city and county.  

“Community-based system dynamics is a participatory method that engages stakeholders in the process of explaining what they see as the underlying structures that cause the problems they want to change, and visualizing those structures in the form of system dynamics models,” said Saras Chung, a computational social scientist in the design lab and an event organizer.

“In practice, CBSD empowers people to understand the system and make informed actions,” Chung added.

The high school facilitators engaged their peers in scripted activities to map out the underlying system structure that leads to gun violence in St. Louis. Specifically, they focused on the cycles that perpetuate gun violence to identify ways to restructure the system.

At the end of the four-day summit, students shared their findings with members of the Brown School and the local community, including regional nonprofit leaders working on similar issues.

“We really wanted to capture the voices of youth,” Chung said. “They aren’t being asked enough. We wanted to gauge what young people who have seen and experienced gun violence had to say about what caused these problems and identify possible solutions. Can youth and their unique perspectives be used to end gun violence in their communities?”

Students who participated in the summit continue working on this issue. To follow their work or for more information, visit
sites.wustl.edu/ssdl/changing-systems-youth-summit/.

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