April 6, 2011

Engaging in Academic Communities

My name is Alex Kulick, and I’m an undergraduate studying Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, with two minors: Mathematics and Community Action and Social Change. I have been involved in one of the Arts of Citizenship projects, working with Dr. Laura Wernick and Dr. Michael Woodford. Our project explores the role of theatrical performance in queer youth community organizing. I’ve been involved in this project both as part of the research team, assisting Dr. Wernick and Dr. Woodford. Furthermore, I have been a participant, as a former member of the organization being studied – Riot Youth.

The most engaging and interesting part of this work, in my experiences, has been the ongoing and dynamic relationship between the community and the research. My first interactions with Dr. Wernick and with Riot Youth were part of a community based participatory action research project, involving designing, analyzing and implementing a Climate Survey. The Climate Survey plays an integral role in the community organizing and theatrical performances that we have been studying as a research team for the current research project.

The foundation of all levels of research and investigation in this project and within Riot Youth are based on the same values that guide Riot Youth and engaged scholarship: trusting in the expertise of individuals on their own lived experiences, and the value of engaging with community work as a foundation for knowledge generation. Although empirical methods and theoretical understandings guide our analysis, the words and the stories of the youth are always the foundation of the conclusions to which we come. I saw these values first as a participant of Riot Youth, in our youth created Climate Survey that spoke to our own lives, unlike adult written and administered surveys that seemed cold and inapplicable. I continue to see this in the work that we do in studying the project, as the use of grounded theory guides our analysis in a way that the words and experiences of the research participants are an integral part of our conclusions.

One huge example of this has been my continued involvement on the research team. Having been a participant in Riot Youth and a member of the community we are studying, my perspective and understandings have often been invited into conversations about the analysis of our data and the direction of the research. I consider myself lucky to work with a research team that embraces this “theoretical sensitivity.” As a Riot Youth alum, I feel privileged to be able to continue to study and reflect on my experiences and the other experiences of Riot Youth participants. As a research assistant, I feel fortunate to be able to actively contribute to the research process.

As I continue to engage in academic communities, it has become a very real possibility for me that I would want to continue working in academia, and possibly work towards a Ph.D. As someone who is interested in research, I am glad to have this introduction to community based practice, and having seen this as an opportunity, I am excited about embracing engaged scholarship and community based participatory action research as I continue my studies.

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