The Bringing Theory to Practice initiative recently awarded Guilford’s Community and Justice Studies (CMJS) program and UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians (CNNC) its Way Forward grant to evaluate CNNC’s Community Centers Program. CNNC’s program is an innovative cradle-to-career initiative that supports the wellbeing of immigrants and refugees at three large housing communities in the Greater Greensboro area. The evaluation study will support CNNC’s efforts to not only identify best practices but also to engage property managers with rich data that explain the ways in which the Community Centers benefit their members and the community more broadly.
Guilford students pursuing the CMJS Studies major, together with CNNC staff, as well as residents served by the CNNC Community Centers, will design and conduct this Participatory Action Research (PAR) study. PAR is a community-based method of research grounded in the assumption that individuals possess critical expertise regarding their lives and experiences, which must be drawn upon to address key social issues and to imagine and work toward the transformation of unjust social and structural arrangements. The CNNC Community Center members and many CMJS students have personal experience navigating and coping with social and economic injustices, and this collective experience positions the research team to be sensitive to the influences of such injustices on micro and systemic levels. The skills in community-based research gained by CMJS students will significantly enhance their prospects for employment upon their graduation.
Rooted in the PAR paradigm, a three-course sequence in the CMJS major (JPS 338 Research Methods, JPS 448 and JPS 449 Community and Justice Studies Capstone Seminar I & II) involves conducting research in which community members and student researchers each contribute to the production of new knowledge to address specific issues faced by community residents. For this project, the research team will collaborate over the course of three semesters (spring 2021, fall 2021, and spring 2022) to evaluate and advance the work of the CNNC Community Centers.
A portion of funds from the grant will be used to recruit and train one refugee or immigrant member from each community center to become co-researchers. Including residents as co-researchers in the research process ensures that a more robust, inclusive, contextually relevant, and participatory project is conducted. Community researchers will be recruited and trained to help with each stage of the study, with a focus on their partnership in conducting data collection (e.g., interviewing or surveys).
Sherry Giles, Jefferson-Pilot Professor of Justice and Policy Studies, and
Diya Abdo, Director of CNNC, Professor of English at Guilford, and Founder and Director of Every Campus a Refugee, are the co-principal investigators for the grant research project. Krista Craven, Chair and Associate Professor of Justice and Policy Studies, and a CNNC research fellow, Hsar “Ree Ree” Wei, CMJS student and teaching assistant, and Sonalini Sapra, member of CNNC advisory board, are core members of the research group.