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  • 00:11

    MEAGAN CALL-CUMMINGS, PhD: Hi, my name's Meagan Call-Cummings.[Meagan Call Cummings, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow,School of Education Indiana University Bloomington]I'm a post-doctoral fellow at Indiana University Bloomington.The project that I worked on was born outof a shared interest in the conceptand goal of empowerment.It all actually started at a family reunion.I was hanging out actually talkingabout this really cool class I was taking

  • 00:31

    as part of my doctoral degree about participatory actionresearch.I overheard an aunt talking about a classthat she had become involved in at her high schoolwhere she was a Spanish teacher.It was called a Spanish Speaker Serving, a pseudonym.She had been drawn into this projectby a nonprofit organization operating in the Western United

  • 00:53

    States, and they had a very specific and explicit goalof empowering Latino youth.Really, they called it empowering,and what they meant about that was increasing accessto higher education for Latino youth,especially high achieving Latino youth.So she began with this nonprofit organization

  • 01:14

    and with this very explicit goal of empowering-- kindof in quotes-- this population.So I was interested in that, because Iwas interested in the goal of empowerment,but from a methodological perspective.So she invited me to come meet her class in October of 2012,and so I did that.I went to Atkinville, which is a small rural dairy

  • 01:35

    town in Southern Idaho.At that time, the class consisted of 52 high schoolstudents, 9th through 12th grade, all self-identifiedas Latino or Latina.About, I would guess, maybe 90% were considered undocumented,meaning they were living illegally in the United States.My aunt, she decided to call herself Mrs. Christine James,

  • 01:58

    and I asked these students during this visit--they were positioned as co-researchers,which is important in participatory action research.We asked them what their authentic questionsare about their own lives.So this means we asked them what made them mad, whatwas unfair in their life, what was challenging or frustrating

  • 02:21

    about life, or school, their community, their world.They came up with a list of really insightful questionsthat we then discussed as a group.We narrowed in on one key questionthat the student co-researchers thought really representedtheir primary concern.And that was, why are our teachers racist?

  • 02:42

    Now, to understand why they asked that question,really you need to understand whatwas going on in that community at the time.Over the preceding decade or 15 years,this community had undergone a very drastic and suddenDemocrat-- excuse me-- demographicshift from about 100% white to about 50%

  • 03:05

    white 50% Latino, mainly due to the growth of the dairyindustry and the demand for dairy workers there.So this was really quick-- 10 years, maybe 15 years from 100%white to 50% white 50% Latino.So you can understand that there were some issuesright underneath the surface that were not being

  • 03:26

    talked about at that time.[What were the aims and objectives of your research?]So our goal was both simple and also very challenging.We wanted to start a conversation about race,but we wanted that conversation to really challenge and upsetthe status quo that was going on in that community and at school

  • 03:49

    at the time.And really there were multiple objectives,so while the students wanted to explore this question of racismat their school-- particularly what they feltwas emanating from their white teachers toward themselvesas Latino students-- Mrs. James and I were more particularlyor specifically interested in looking at this questionof empowerment.

  • 04:11

    So with this specialty class, Spanish Speakers Serving,accomplishing the very explicit goalof empowering these students, that'swhat Mrs. James was really interested in looking at.And then I on the other hand as a methodologistwas really interested in questionsabout the potential for PAR to even askthese types of questions.

  • 04:31

    PAR has all these great liberatory social justiceclaims about upsetting the status quo and challenginghierarchies of power.Yet, a school is so rigidly hierarchical I wonderedif PAR would really be able to accomplishthese types of lofty goals in such a setting.So our objectives were really threefold.

  • 04:53

    That said, Mrs. James and I decidedthat we would focus very explicitly on investigatingthe question the student co-researchers had selected,because we felt that in going about that workour questions might be answered, albeit less explicitly.[How did you use participatory action research to answeryour research question?]

  • 05:14

    We used multiple approaches to answering this questionwhy are our teachers racist.We started the process by first exploringwhat it meant to be racist and also how it felt.We did this by engaging in theater of the oppressed.So, you may be familiar with Paulo Freire's Pedagogy

  • 05:34

    of the Oppressed.The idea in his Pedagogy of the Oppressedis that oppression is a relationshipbetween the oppressor and the oppressed,and that both can be liberated from this relationship.Augusto Boal, Freire's friend, developedTheatre of the Oppressed as a mechanism of engagingin this kind of liberation.

  • 05:55

    So Boal thought that by enacting our everyday lived experienceswe could discover new ways of actingwithin that particular situation, and then in factdiscover new ways of being free fromthe oppressive relationship.So in this situation, the student co-researchersstarted this process by first writing down

  • 06:16

    simple everyday experiences they had had with racism.It could be something that they hadbeen a part of that they had experienced themselvesfirsthand, or maybe something they saw in their school,or witnessed in their community, or even maybe a parentor sibling had told them about.We then acted these situations outin a group setting in the classroom,

  • 06:38

    and then we took time to re-enact each situation,trying out different ways of being or acting,again, within that particular situation.So by doing this, the student co-researcherswere in a position to challenge each other,ask each other questions like, well whydid you respond that way?Or, maybe your teacher was really

  • 06:59

    thinking this and not that, or whatif you said this instead of what you really did say.And this led to a more nuanced thinkingaround racist intentions or motivationsand racist outcomes.This also led our research group,which we call a collective, thinkingthat perhaps these negative relationships

  • 07:21

    between white teachers and their Latino studentswere due to-- in the students' words--cultural misunderstandings.So in order to approach this ideaof cultural misunderstandings and howwe could maybe bridge them, we held a photovoice exhibit.So over the course of several weeks,the student co-researchers took pictures

  • 07:42

    of their everyday lives, of what's important to them.Then they wrote extended captions or storiesthat would explain or go along with these pictures.So for example, this picture of a carwould be an example of something that theyselected to place in the photovoice exhibit.The pictures and stories were displayed in the school library

  • 08:04

    for about two weeks, during which timeother students, or teachers, parents, community members,even school administrators and leaders came to the exhibit.Our collective developed a short surveythat exhibit attendees took after they came.We also invited these students' teachersto be a part of group interviews.

  • 08:26

    The school had about 1,200 students,so you can imagine the number of teachers.And four teachers accepted the invitation.I worked with the student co-researchers ahead of timeto develop interview questions that they thenused to interview the teachers.We also developed a spectrum of racism.That's what the student co-researchers called it.

  • 08:48

    Students told their stories of when they saw or experiencedracism in their lives, and then they located italong a spectrum.So one side of the spectrum would havebeen titled complete hatred.The students said the KKK was over on this side.And on the other side was total love and acceptance,and so they located their experiencesalong this spectrum.

  • 09:10

    So then we talked about the gaps we saw on this spectrumand why they put their stories where.The idea behind this spectrum wasto gain a nuancing of our own understanding of racism,that it wasn't just an either or.Are you racist, or aren't you?Is your teacher racist, or isn't she?

  • 09:31

    This also served as kind of a jumpingoff point for our final project, whichwas to present our findings to the schoolboard and other service organizationswithin the community.So all of the approaches we used during these mini projectswere really aimed at PAR's underlying tenets,and I'll mention three.First, all stakeholders have valuable expertise.

  • 09:53

    Second, all stakeholders can be involved in the productionand consumption of knowledge.And then third, stakeholders' values enrich the process.I'll talk a little bit about these.So really all of these tenets haveto do with the knowledge productionprocess, what most people refer to as the research process.

  • 10:16

    So Fals-Borda and Rahman, who werekind of the grandfathers of participatory action research,write about this knowledge production processand about its liberty capabilities.They say this."This is the distinctive viewpoint of PAR,domination of masses by elites isrooted not only in the polarization of control

  • 10:36

    over the means of material productionbut also over the means of knowledge production,including control over the social powerto determine what is useful knowledge."So essentially, they're saying herethat whoever has control over the means of producingknowledge has power, so that means that then knowledgeproduction-- if we engage these students in this production

  • 11:02

    of knowledge, this process of research, in factthey are becoming empowered.They are gaining control over this processand over the ability to determinewhat knowledge is valuable, whose knowledge is valuable.So this is really why we did whatwe did, to reallocate the power to produce valuable knowledge.

  • 11:24

    Every project centered on the student co-researchers'own expertise and experiences.[What key methodological or practical challenges did youface and how did you overcome them?]This idea of focusing on reallocating the powerto produce knowledge also became a key challenge

  • 11:44

    throughout the project.I was constantly wrestling with questions about my own roleas a researcher.At first, I tried to act as if my contributionsto the projects didn't matter as much as those of the students.I was so focused on honoring their expertisethat I forgot my own expertise should be valuedand honored as well.

  • 12:04

    This led to my trying to be kind of invisible,which of course I wasn't.So there were questions of positionality thatcame up throughout the project.These questions of positionality also related to race.I and Mrs. James are white.All the co-researchers are Latino or Latina.These were questions that were not only about race

  • 12:25

    but were also about power structures,and these questions were difficult to addressexplicitly.One of the ways we sought to foreground these questionswas through developing a website thatpresented not only our findings but our process as well.By using a website as a platform for this,we were able to democratize what is normally

  • 12:46

    highly undemocratic.Often in academia, we see a researcher, with a capital R,go into the field, do some field work,and then go back into a cubicle, write up the findings,and present them in some journal.This was really the opposite process.I created the website, because I had more time to do so.These were high school students that were doing high school

  • 13:08

    24/7, and Mrs. James is a teacherwho didn't have extra time.But I created it in a way that allowed their voicesto be heard, literally.We recorded them telling their own storiesfor a section on the spectrum of racism.I scanned their own journal entriesso that we could see their own writing,not some typed up version of it.

  • 13:28

    They introduced themselves in their own words.Every page, for example, had a common functionso that as I created this site they could-- the studentco-researchers-- comment on what they agreed with or didn't,or what they enjoyed or really didn't, what they learned.All of this in an effort to democratize the entire research

  • 13:50

    process, that knowledge production process,and to a certain extent deal with these questionsof positionality and power.[What were the findings of your research and why do theymatter?]So as I mentioned, we had different interest.Therefore, the findings were threefold.There were methodological findings, pedagogical,

  • 14:12

    and policy related findings.So the methodological findings relatedto my interest in this potential for PAR to be liberatoryor democratizing in a highly undemocratic settingof a school or a classroom, and these findingsreally related to validity of or in PAR.Second were pedagogical findings.

  • 14:35

    These related to Mrs. James's questionabout empowerment in her classroom,and we found that empowerment reallycame, as I've already mentioned, as wereallocated the power over the knowledge production process.And third, the findings that were related to the studentco-researchers question about why

  • 14:56

    are our teachers racist, these findings really focusedon how the everyday practices of teachers that seemed normalor even desirable really expressed implicit policiesthat silenced these students.[Conclusion]So in conclusion, while this particular project

  • 15:18

    was about racism in schools from a more substantive perspective,it had a lot of methodological implications as well.Most critically, this project emphasizedthat participatory approaches to researchhave the potential to be empoweringfor all those involved.That is, as we open up the research process--that knowledge production process-- to those historically

  • 15:40

    marginalized by the process itself,we allow these voices to determinewhose knowledge is valuable and what knowledgeshould be honored.I've discussed a few of the ways that our research collectiveapproached this idea of empowerment, of opening upthe research process.The student co-researchers determined the primary researchquestion based on their own concerns and lived experiences.

  • 16:03

    They made decisions about and carried out data collection.They were meaningfully involved in data analysis,including coding and thematic analysis.They made decisions about how we would present findings,not only in their community but in the scholarly communityas well.So now I'll provide you with just a few reflective questionsfor you to consider.

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    First, how might participatory approachesplay a role in research that may not on the surfacelend itself to them?Second, what role does participation playin establishing the validity of research?And third, what connections do yousee between this ethic of meaningful participation

  • 16:44

    and validity?


Dr. Meagan Call-Cummings presents a participatory action research project that had three aims: to uncover and understand racism in schools, to empower marginalized students, and to determine the effectiveness of participatory action research as a means to effect social change.

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Researching Racism in Schools Using Participatory Action Research

Dr. Meagan Call-Cummings presents a participatory action research project that had three aims: to uncover and understand racism in schools, to empower marginalized students, and to determine the effectiveness of participatory action research as a means to effect social change.

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