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Catalyzing Research Partnerships with Communities at Tufts

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Tisch College Community Research Center continues to fund projects that create new knowledge while addressing important issues in Tufts' host communities.

Community research partners

The Tisch College Community Research Center (TCRC) was founded in 2004 with the mission of encouraging and promoting community research partnerships at Tufts University. Supported primarily by Tisch College, TCRC centers its work on a seed grant funding program. Each year, it funds projects that have the potential to benefit from a small grant.

This year, TCRC has funded two projects—one each in two of Tufts’ host communities, Somerville and Boston’s Chinatown. The projects will create new knowledge while addressing important community issues in the places where our faculty, staff and students live and work.

In Somerville, a collaboration between the Community Action Agency of Somerville, the Somerville Community Corporation, the Somerville Homeless Coalition, The Welcome Project, and Tufts University’s Department of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) will explore how immigrant and low-income residents are experiencing the city’s rapid development and gentrification. A combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with residents and community leaders will shed light on this critical issue affecting Somerville and countless cities across the nation.

“This project is exciting because it acknowledges residents’ expertise about their lived experience of the economic and social pressures of rapid development and gentrification,” says Laurie Goldman, a Tufts UEP faculty member who is coordinating the research partnership. “Instead of being captured by census and housing market data, Somerville residents will craft and conduct the research. Residents who are most vulnerable to displacement will describe changes in their housing, education, employment, social life, and wellbeing.”

The findings from this pilot project will be presented and discussed at a convening of Somerville residents, community-based organizations, City officials and administrators, and Tufts researchers. Results may inform future local responses to displacement as a result of gentrification, as well as future study of these complex dynamics.

In Chinatown, a project titled “These Words:  A Century of Printing and Publication in Boston’s Chinese Community” will produce an exhibition based on archival research and civic advocacy. This initiative is a partnership between several Humanities faculty at Tufts and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE). The exhibit will be based on a historical collection of books, objects, photographs, and private and public documents held by CHSNE. It will serve to identify specific ways that knowledge, in printed form, was communicated in Boston’s Chinese community, and how that transmission shaped the distinctive economic and cultural life of this neighborhood.

The goal is to make this material accessible to the public and useful for future scholarly work, as well as to advocate for the Boston Public Library to reopen its Chinatown branch.

“This research and exhibition will shine a light on the value of the written word in Boston’s Chinatown, and hopes to elevate the conversation about the possible return of a branch library, which closed over 60 years ago,” says Susan Chinsen, CHSNE Managing Director and Tufts alumna.

These year’s projects add to an impressive portfolio of successful studies funded by TCRC. Last year, the group supported a project to carry out focus groups with Asian-American women in order to better understand the barriers they face in obtaining breast and cervical cancer screenings. The project, a collaboration between Asian Women for Health, Saheli Boston, the Boston College School of Nursing, and Tufts University School of Medicine found that cultural beliefs, practices, and provider attitudes influenced whether women were screened. It also provided valuable lessons about recruiting and conducting focus groups with Chinese, Vietnamese, and South Asian women.

“We identified barriers including lack of knowledge about the risks and benefits of the breast and cervical cancer screenings, and lack of knowledge about how the tests were conducted and whether they were painful,” says Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM, the project’s principal investigator. “We also found that some women do not know that there is no charge for screenings and that cost can be a tipping point for some, when added to the time and discomfort involved in getting screened.”

Last year’s second TCRC-funded project involved critical dialogues in the Dominican community to explore gentrification and its impact on health and well-being. A partnership between Tufts, Boston University, and the Dominican Development Center, the discussions with youth in Jamaica Plain revealed, for example, that young people who are newer to the United States view the changes happening in their communities differently than those raised in Boston.

Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research at Tisch College, highlighted the TCRC’s work as a prime example of Tisch College and Tufts’ commitment to our host communities.

“The projects funded by the TCRC produce vital knowledge in areas like urban policy and public health while strengthening communities,” says Levine. “We’re proud to support this work and we look forward to deepening our connections with faculty members and local leaders in order to amplify our collective impact.”