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Community-Engaged Research as Part of an Anti-Racist Research Agenda

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By: Özlü Aran, M.S., M.A. Ph.D. candidate | Neurodevelopmental Research Program

Article  •
flyer on a wood pole that says do you want research of decency, equality, and real social justice

Focus of my research program is the intergenerational transmission of health. I examine perinatal stress, health disparities, and socioemotional development in infancy. After I started working on these topics, I realized quickly that this type of research is not meaningful without considering the role of context and social justice in this inequitable and unjust world. Thus, I decided to go beyond focusing on the individual differences in mental health and stress-related outcomes and started to investigate the risk factors contributing to these nonoptimal conditions. I committed to educate myself on social justice and health disparities and develop an anti-racist research agenda.  

It was a couple years later that I joined the CCESL Grad Community of Practice during which I had some insights about my ever-evolving research program. First, I realized is that if I want to investigate the risk factors leading to mental health problems, I should reach out to the community and hear what they have to say about these factors they are experiencing. What are they struggling with? What are their needs? And how can I approach these factors in my research so that the research itself can actually serve them? We never ask these questions in traditional research settings. We care about what the funding agencies want, how we should frame our findings while disseminating to the academic audience, and what questions we might get from reviewers when trying to publish our work. I also realized that our discussions of the principles and examples of community-engaged research in the Grad Community of Practice Program were actually practices of research through an anti-racist lens. Some of terminology may be different, but the ideas and the goals were very similar. For example, most of the studies in my area exclude individuals from marginalized backgrounds and provide a portrait of the experiences of white and western populations. The anti-racist research principles encourage researchers to acknowledge this and improve their work by using different sources of literature and including participants from marginalized backgrounds into their studies. I think community-engaged research offers a solution to this by engaging with marginalized populations, integrating their experiences into the research, and -even better- creating meaningful work that benefits the community.  

I now know that my future research will be guided by the community-engaged scholarship which I see as a means to achieve my goal of engaging in anti-racist research. There are huge health disparities in prenatal care in the United States. I find it exceptionally important to work with community partners to identify the needs of pregnant individuals at risk and find the solutions through a shared leadership.