Skate culture surrounds us. But how well do we understand it?

A grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation will support study of skateboarding, schools and society

By Siel Ju

Zoë Corwin, associate research professor

Set to enter the Olympic Games in 2020, skateboarding has grown into a widely popular sport. Still, much remains unknown about skateboarding culture and the youth connected to it. How does skateboarding identity affect the way skateboarders interact with schools and society? How are skills learned from skateboarding transferrable to other aspects of skaters’ lives?

Those are just some of the questions that will be explored through a new research project at the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Zoë B. Corwin, a research associate professor at USC Rossier, was recently awarded a $264,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation to study the impact skateboarding has on young people and their educational and career trajectories.

“Skateboarding is so prevalent in our society, yet we know very little about how skate culture intersects with education and career opportunities–especially in low-income and minoritized communities,” Corwin said. “This study is a researcher’s dream as we’ll be exploring an understudied field using critical and youth-centric lenses with the aim of figuring out how to best support marginalized youth—and to do so in partnership with such a well-respected foundation is very exciting.”

Neftalie Williams is a USC adjunct professor and an expert on skate diplomacy, as well as an expert skater himself. (Photo: Rachele Honcharik)

By surveying 1,000 low-income skaters between the ages of 15 and 21 and conducting case studies at five skate parks in distinct regions of the country, the study will identify different types of skateboarder identities, as well as analyze challenges faced and strategies employed by skaters in their educational or career advancement. The project will run from July 2018 to September 2019.

“We’re thrilled that the Pullias Center has taken on this work,” said Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation. “As skateboarding is more broadly acknowledged as a core identity and opportunities continue to develop for these young athletes, it’s time we better understand the benefits and challenges of being a skateboarder.”

Corwin will team up with Neftalie Williams, an adjunct professor at USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism; long-term Pullias Center collaborator and skateboard enthusiast, Tattiya Maruco; and evaluators Robert Reichardt and Abby McClelland from Augenblick, Palach & Associates.

Williams’ research uses skateboarding culture as a lens to understand issues of diversity, race, class and gender and explores how skateboarding can be used as a tool for cultural diplomacy.  “This grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation demonstrates their exceptional vision, leadership and dedication to skateboarding culture and to underserved youth,” Williams said. “We are honored to partner with their organization and look forward to developing strategies which support young people in their future endeavors.”

This latest grant builds upon Corwin’s long-term research on college access, success and equity in higher education.

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