Although research and inquiry have historically been essential parts of grassroots social movements, the contemporary university is not always compatible with the kinds of research that activists call for. In response, the Research Hub has taken an approach that allows the university to be used in service of those seeking progressive change.
Establishing and developing relationships with community partners is key to the advancement of the Research Hub’s agenda. Research Hub staff use their expertise to aid community-based activists in their pursuits of racial and social equity. They are particularly focused on working with social movements that are youth-focused and/or youth-led. They are seeking to re-engage the academy with the community in a way that makes resources available outside of the confines of the university system. “This is part of our mission. To actually use the resources within the university to move forward these changes, social justice-minded changes in the community,” said Dr. Siomara Valladares, Research Hub’s co-principal investigator.
Oftentimes, activists have a difficult time leveraging the resources of the university due to its complex bureaucracy and dominant approaches to research inside the academy that aspire to detached objectivity over engagement and collaboration. The Research Hub, therefore, has worked to cultivate relationships that enable activists to identify how high-level research can advance their causes or build capacity for their organizations. In this way, the Research Hub thinks of its partners as co-collaborators and not as subjects of research. As Michelle Renée Valladares, Research Hub’s co-principal investigator, noted, “we’re not just researchers coming to drop in and study with you, we're people that want to be in struggle with you.” For many activists, grounding their agenda in high-level research can legitimize their requests in the eyes of decision-makers who may otherwise be more inclined to be dismissive.
This collaborative framing is especially useful as the researchers in the Research Hub cultivate and sustain new relationships with community-focused organizations. Many communities and activist organizations have had negative experiences with researchers who have partnered with them, but were not looking to aid the activists in their pursuits. Researchers in the Research Hub are committed to decolonizing the university, and that process includes acknowledging the past traumas inflicted by researchers and working to establish equitable and transparent relationships with communities.
As Dr. Adam York, a co-principal investigator, the Research Hub’s work is “informed by scholars who have really talked and thought deeply about how we can start the process of decolonizing research, and decolonizing the university, and doing things in a different way." At every level of interaction, the researchers reinforce the notion that the community members are the experts in their own needs and thus ought to be the guiding force in terms of priority setting.
The pandemic has been difficult on many communities and the Research Hub has found itself struggling alongside community during these times. While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on communities, it has created an opportunity for the researchers to work at a greater depth than was previously possible. For instance, in trying to meet shifting timelines and new demands placed on activists due to the pandemic, the Research Hub has been able to more intensely analyze already collected data. In the case of their collaboration with the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, the Research Hub was able to take data that was collected before the pandemic hit but shift their analysis to address the challenges this youth organization faces in light of the pandemic and ongoing racial reckoning.
The Research Hub’s collaborative approach allows researchers to have a reach well outside the scope of a typical journal article. “It's work that's very timely, that's linked to the here and the now that needs immediate attention. The reach and scope of our work is guided by that urgency. It allows them to take “all of our practical and theoretical knowledge and really putting it into use across so many diverse contexts with so many diverse organizations,” said Dr. Siomara Valladares.