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The 2022 Tisch Community Research Forum: Reflecting on a Groundbreaking Experience

Friday, July 29, 2022

Tufts students and community partners collaborate on important local, national, and global questions in research presented on April 1, 2022.

Zoom screenshot of 4 people presenting at the TCRC Research Forum

How do Tufts students and community partners research together? From understanding the pandemic’s impacts across Greater Boston to learning about the experiences of political campaign workers, Tufts students and community partners collaborate on important local, national, and global questions. Despite the extensive breadth of this work across all campuses and departments, however, the visibility of community participatory research at Tufts University remains limited. 

To draw attention to community engaged research at Tufts, the Tisch College Community Research Center hosted the first Annual Tisch Community Research Forum on April 1, 2022. Students, community partners, and faculty provided a snapshot of collaborative work. By spotlighting participatory approaches to research in particular, TCRC hopes to inspire more students and support opportunities for broader learning and knowledge building together with a wide range of partners.  

Tisch College Associate Dean Diane Ryan kicked off the forum, speaking about the growth of the Tisch College Community Research Center: “We need people to not wait until they are 40 years old, … to learn about what is participatory action research. How can we introduce [participatory research] when people are in their undergraduate careers…? We really need to continue to spread the word, fertilize and make it a centerpiece of the work that we do.”  Engagement with participatory approaches can expand new research and education opportunities for both students and community partners and align with TCRC’s mission to make participatory research with community partners more accessible.

A keynote presentation followed, as Dr. Jennifer Allen (Professor, Community Health), Ms. Heloisa Galvão (Executive Director, Brazilian Women’s Group), and Ms. Adriana Fernandes (SomerViva, City of Somerville) discussed the effects of COVID-19 on Brazilian immigrants in Massachusetts. They outlined how the community-based participatory research process developed, how resources were secured, and how the team adjusted to ongoing COVID challenges. Several students on the research team appreciated the opportunity to connect their Tufts studies with an on-the-ground research experience. Using surveys and key informational interviews, the research team assessed physical and mental health impacts of the pandemic. They investigated behaviors regarding COVID exposure, testing, and treatment, and developed parallel informational materials, including targeted resources for vaccination efforts. The team also highlighted ongoing community concerns, such as basic needs, that were exacerbated during the pandemic and associated ripple effects with isolation and other mental health stressors. 

Community partners on the team faced the challenge of maintaining ongoing engagement while at the same time community members had to focus on basic needs first. Heloisa Galvão of the Brazilian Women’s Group shared these concerns: “How do you reach out to people who are sick, who are trying to make ends meet…or who face the possibility of getting sick?” The team worked to mitigate the effects of isolation and stress through both direct conversations and online platforms. The Brazilian Women’s Group used avenues like Instagram Live and Facebook to maintain connections. There are still gaps, especially in funding for community organizations, but the research is ongoing, and each organizational partner expressed interest in continued work with students. 

Next, students and community partners shared their collective work in concurrent sessions. The first session focused on immigrant experiences in Somerville during COVID with The Welcome Project. Students from a community-based participatory research course shared what and how they learned through direct collaboration with their community partner (students listed at the end of this article). The research emerged from a course co-taught by Ms. Winki Chan, Executive Director of The Welcome Project and Dr. Shalini Tendulkar, Senior Lecturer in Community Health. The team sought to understand local community responses and pandemic experiences through qualitative interviews in Somerville. With the findings, they will develop lesson plans and presentations for various community audiences. Winki Chan (The Welcome Project) initially asked students to “spend time building and understanding the community that the Welcome Project is situated in,” and learn from staff members to help round out the research process. Their partnership was able to thrive on understanding the needs of their community and making sure that everybody involved was equipped to effectively interact with them as well. 

Another concurrent session focused on the experiences of progressive campaign workers, presented by Gabriella Cantor (A22, Sociology) and Rikki Baker-Keusch (Campaign Manager). This project used a participatory action research model with an advisory group of campaign workers to provide a labor perspective on progressive campaign experiences. The research explored what motivates individuals to work on progressive campaigns knowing the difficult work conditions involved. Common interview themes indicate that progressive campaigns do not live up to their professed values, and there was a passionate interest in organizing for improved work conditions. As one campaign worker shared in the interviews: “You tell yourself you are saving the world…I was never going to be a microbiologist and cure cancer. That was well out my league, but I figured I could help elect people or help write and craft policy, that was up my alley.” The main draw of campaign work is usually a desire to make a meaningful impact in one’s community, but these strong feelings can lead towards alienation and exploitation. Individuals employed by campaigns have shown interest in unions, but experiences vary, and involvement is limited by short political timeframes. Now that the project has documented these problems, however, there is shared interest in developing potential solutions. 

Lastly, Tufts students reflected upon their community-based research in three concurrent sessions. Florence Almeda (A22, Community Health) discussed the experiences of Filipina/o/x American women and their attitudes towards seeking mental health assistance in college. She was able to share her valuable interviewing experience through networks in the Filipino community as a founding member of the Tufts Philippine Student Union. Through these connections, she worked with The Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue to recruit undergraduates. In these interviews, she actively worked to create an inclusive and open environment, building trust and rapport with participants. Emerging themes included commonalities where university mental health resources were inaccessible, and when mental health concerns were being minimized due to family or cultural beliefs. However, individuals also found alternate spaces to manage their mental health, like speaking with friends who share the same academic background, or people who were in the same cultural or religious communities. A quote from one of the individuals demonstrates the effect of the interviews: “This kind of felt like therapy to me…But I think like, participating in the study just like you know, be able to like talk through it and try to like articulate my experience with mental health. I think it’s just a good thing for me to do.” The interviews themselves provided a great resource for undergraduate students to speak freely and find a space to discuss their mental health. Analysis of the results is ongoing, but a great foundation to build on for the future is being established with this project.

Hoai Thuong Tran’s (A21, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning) project “Vietnamese American Residents’ Relationship with Climate Change in Dorchester” was a collaboration with VietAID, a community development organization. The team conducted surveys, interviews, focus groups, and climate change workshops to reframe climate issues as a collective. Instead of focusing on resiliency against the dire climate issues we face, their goal is to bounce forward and shed the capitalistic approach towards climate change. Key takeaways show there is a lot of work to be done in order to create meaningful discourse by overcoming cultural and language barriers, however, there is great value in the role of young people when it comes to leading climate change work in their communities. Young people are extremely knowledgeable and passionate towards climate issues, and they have tools to help overcome cultural divides within immigrant communities. It helps when facilitators and researchers are from the community themselves when discussing climate change, so they can help reframe the issues and inspire engagement with the research.  

Finally, students working with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) reflected on their initial progress assessing cultural responsiveness for existing social services in Quincy, and how it felt taking the leap working on a research concept that was new to them. The Tisch College Community Research Center embarked on this new journey working alongside BCNC, recruiting students who have an interest in research but seeking for new opportunities in the field. Every student brought their own unique skillset to the table. The team completed key interviews with a sample of organizations across Quincy to learn more about the cultural responsiveness of their programs. In conjunction with these qualitative interviews, the students collected secondary data on Quincy to understand where people live and go to school, creating visuals using Geographic Information System mapping (GIS). Their findings are currently being collated into a final report and StoryMap to help illustrate the connections between culturally responsive programming and geographic and demographic changes among residents in Quincy. The team hopes that the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center can use these materials to inform their programming to support residents. 

Overall, the first Tisch Community Research Forum brought together an impressive compilation of community - Tufts research and we look forward to learning more at the next forum in 2023. View recordings of the forum discussions and presentations. And a very special thanks to the individuals below for sharing their experiences and findings.

Filipina/o/x American Women's Experiences & Attitudes Towards Seeking Mental Health Help During College 

  • Florence Almeda, A22, Community Health

Defining Resiliency in Dorchester: A Climate Action Research Project to Understand Vietnamese American Residents’ Relationship with Climate Change

  • Hoai Thuong Tran, A21, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

Community-Based Participatory Research with The Welcome Project in Somerville, MA 

  • Geovanny Muñoz Acosta, A23, Community Health
  • Katelin Isakoff, A23, Community Health & Biology
  • Annie Li, A24, Community Health & Biology
  • Andrew Hwang, A22, Biopsychology & Community Health
  • Amanda Wilhoit, A22, Community Health
  • Shalini Tendulkar, Senior Lecturer, Department of Community Health
  • Winki Chan, Interim Co-Executive Director & Director of Education and Family Engagement, The Welcome Project

Examining the Experiences of Progressive Political Campaign Workers

  • Gabriella Cantor, A22, Sociology
  • Boston Neighborhood Chinatown Center and Culturally Responsive Social Services in Quincy, MA 
  • Abigail Vixama, A24, International Relations
  • Wenjin Xu, A23, Psychology 
  • Nicole Setow, A23, Biopsychology
  • Lina Huang, A22, Sociology
  • Yeojin Kim, A23, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

Please reach out to Elaine Donnelly at elaine.donnelly@tufts.edu regarding TCRC or to sign up for the newsletter.