Reflections on Restraint: A Youth Radio & Exploratorium Collaboration

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Two cultural institutions on either side of the San Francisco Bay, Youth Radio and the Exploratorium, share a commitment to sparking curiosity, exploration, and learning. This year, we decided to do something together. Here’s a collection of media a small group of Youth Radio’s young people created out of that collaboration.


The starting point: an Exploratorium exhibit called The Changing Face of What is Normal. Featuring personal artifacts from hospitalized psychiatric patients, video testimonials from mental health providers, and a collection of objects used to restrain thought and action, the exhibit poses a series of questions:

  • Does normal change over time?
  • How do we identify and treat what is not normal?
  • In what ways do labels of normal and not normal depend on perspective, culture, and environment?
  • What is the difference between restraint and protection, when it comes to treating perceived abnormality?

When Youth Radio’s young people visited the Exploratorium exhibit, they were especially struck by the room dedicated to the theme of Restraint. The dominant element in the room is a large wooden coffin-like piece of furniture that locks shut (with air holes across the top). It was once standard procedure to restrain mentally ill patients using this device, and visitors to the exhibit are invited to climb into the “bed” and experience what it feels like.


Lining the walls of the room are photographs and three-dimensional objects touching on the theme of restraint both literally, in the context of mental illness, and metaphorically, as something we exercise and that can be forced upon us, again and again in our everyday lives.

First, you can listen to a mix of reflections young people shared shortly after they’d visited the exhibit. Here Youth Radio’s Bianca Brooks, Kendrick Calkins, Maya Escobar, Michael Prizmich and Sophie Varon respond to the stories of institutionalized psychiatric patients that were featured at the museum, and they describe the experience of stepping inside the “Utica Crib.”

Youth Radio’s Sunday Simon was inspired to produce a pair of “Dear Diary” entries, through which she imagines the point of view of someone experiencing mental illness and the label of being “not normal.”

Youth Radio’s Bianca Brooks took a more playful approach. When prompted to reflect on all the ways she experiences restraint as a young person in America, Bianca thought of… the bra. In this podcast, she challenges the physical, personal, and cultural forms of restraint applied to girls and women.

Finally, this project got us thinking about the extent to which restraint runs as a powerful theme through so many stories in Youth Radio’s archive. We curated the following playlist, which is just a small sample:

More stories from the Youth Radio archives touching on issues of restraint:


Restraint can take on the shape of what confines us, and the boundaries we find liberation within.  Thanks to Jean Cheng from the Exploratorium staff for inviting us to consider this provocative topic.

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