Philadelphia – WCU

Our Program

The Philadelphia region site is hosted by the Rustin Urban Community Change Axis (RUCCAS), a collective impact organization formed by and for West Chester University and regional urban community-based organizations, government and school partners. RUCCAS is focused on providing: 1) a credential-bearing educational pipelines for young, emerging, and mid-career urban community change professionals (Access), 2) support and connection for urban youth, young adults and their allies (Humanness) and 3) centralized university- urban community collaborations (Axis). For more information, please visit our website at

RUCCAS currently houses the Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies (YES) Program, founded in 2012,which is an 18-credit, interdisciplinary, community-engaged, place-based, urban social-change focused academic minor. The mission of YES is to amplify through study and action a critical understanding of the role youth can play in social change in Philadelphia. The overall goals of the YES program are to contribute to making real community-based change in our local urban areas, especially the City of Philadelphia, and to develop “change-makers”: individuals who have the skills and knowledge to contribute as citizens, including increasing educational and political access for themselves and others. Students take a three-course core sequence, two of which are field-based courses with one of our community partners, including a capstone course in youth-led media, as well as a selection of directed electives. For more information on YES, please visit  

Due to high student demand, we are expanding and are currently developing a major and master’s track in Urban Community Change (RUX), summer institutes, fellowships, and other opportunities to support urban community change organizations and individuals to build power, connect and heal. All of our educational pathways focus on the following goals: to understand urban contexts, invest in urban communities, and make change.

Our partnerships

RUCCAS partners with a variety of campus and community-based organizations. Our campus-based initiatives and partnerships include the Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies (YES) academic minor, 12Plus-WCU, United to End Racism, and iCamp. Our community partners change year to year, but many are long term, and include Need in Deed, 12Plus, Youth United for Change, Mural Arts, Breakthrough, YouthBuild, Westside Community Center, Mastery Charter School, PhillyCAM, and Hope Partnership.  RUCCAS members present together at regional and national conferences, learning together and making an impact through sharing our perspectives.

RUCCAS works to meet critical needs in the community and the university: through YES, students have worked with hundreds of urban youth, at dozens of community organizations and schools on issues related to concrete social change through field-based courses. 12Plus-WCU works to raise awareness around urban education and provide direct college access services. United to End Racism is a multiracial network of individuals committed to putting ending racism and White supremacy at the center of our plans and relationships, and provides tools to support community change leaders to heal from the toxic effects of racism and internalized racism.

Our Students

YES is one of the most popular interdisciplinary minors on campus. Approximately one-third of our students are pre-service teachers at all levels, but YES students come from every college and diverse majors at WCU, from Political Science to Social work to Communications to Criminal Justice to Women’s and Gender Studies to Health and more.  Many of our students of all backgrounds are from Philadelphia or other urban areas themselves, who find that their own lived experiences are assets in the work and learning we do. Most importantly, as a group, YES students are leaders who find in the YES community a posse of other young adults who are growing to understand that the “American dream” functions alongside and sometimes as an excuse for systemic and profound inequalities and undemocratic practices in our schools, our justice systems, our environment, our economy and our political systems. However, these students are also learning in our YES classes, in the field-based work they do with our social change community partners, and in our growing RUCCAS community that they do not at all need to be resigned to this status quo.

As of 2017 YES had over 20 graduates, many of whom stay in the region and are starting to obtain leadership positions in local organizations and/or attend graduate school.  

Our Approach

Our vision of democratically engaged youth and young adults are those that have the knowledge, skills and effective resources needed to make real, substantive change both on particular issues of policy as well as within themselves and others. Democratic engagement means rigorous knowledge of history and current material realities—local, national and international; and it means a growth mindset towards the skills needed to establish relationships, engage groups, communicate across differences, analyze power and issues, create campaigns, and move institutions through policy and governance toward greater justice and equity. Lastly, it means having a vision of a society that promotes the equity and well-being of its citizens through just laws, systems and policies which means-currently-having hope, courage, creativity, and openness, and the means to rejuvenate those attitudes and visions through community and connection.

Our Pathway

Our program recruits students through multiple pathways. We work with community collaborations through organizations and schools to inform others about our program, as well as bring youth to campus for events, conference and institutes. On campus, we recruit students through related programs, social justice movements and activist events with student leaders on campus.

Our Innovations

Some unique aspects of RUCCAS include:

  • Working to create a governance structure that equally values the voices of community and university, youth and adults, long-time mid-career organizers and budding artists.
  • A deep focus on the affective components of doing urban community change , and the necessity for healing space and tools
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Continuous innovation, which today looks like close collaboration to make a summer youth media institute succeed, and tomorrow may look like a major in Urban Community Change (who doesn’t want to major in RUX/“ruckus”?), scholarships and fellowships and more.  

RUCCAS Advisory Board

Our advisory board is composed of students, staff, faculty, and community members.  

Kyra Atterbury, Program Director, Need in Deed

Dr. Hannah Ashley, YES Program Director, RUCCAS Convenor

Dr. Dave Backer, WCU Professional and Secondary Education

Dr. Casey Bohrman, Assistant Professor of Social Work

Dr. Eleanor Brown, Professor, Department of Psychology

Olivia Campbell, CSM Philadelphia Associate City Director

Dr. Laquana Cooke, Assistant Professor of English

Greg F. Corbin, Director of the Social Justice Leadership Institute, AFSC

Dr. Ashlie Delshad, Associate Professor of Political Science

Rebecca Fabiano, President and Founder of FabYouthPhilly

Adessa Flack, RUCCAS Program Associate, WCU Graduate Student

Alicia Hahn, Director of the Center for Women and Gender Equity

Nakyna Garfield-Desphy, Student WCU, YES Program Associate

Nikole Gray, Student WCU

Dr. Sebastian Guzman, Associate Professor of Sociology at WCU

Jackie Hodes, Associate Professor in Higher Education Policy and Student Affairs

Dr. Lisa Huebner, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies

Dr. Bernard Hall, Assistant Professor of English, Writing Zones Coordinator

Dr. Dean Johnson, Director of Peace and Conflict Studies

Dr. Christina Chiarelli-Helminiak, Department Chair, Assistant Professor Graduate Social Work

Dr. Vicki McGinley, Professor of Special Education

Brittany Mingo, Founder, Community Inc.

Kolawole Odesina, YES Program Associate, WCU Graduate Student

Jodi Roth-Saks, Director of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs WCU

Lilah Saber, WCU Student

Khalil Suaray, Hope Partnership After School Coordinator

Benjamin Kuebrich, Assistant Professor of English

Dr. Kathleen Riley, Assistant Professor of Literacy

Dr. Linda Stevenson, Professor and Interim Chair of Political Science

Dr. La Tonya Thames-Taylor, Associate Professor of History

Mikhi Woods, Student WCU