Honors Students Partner with BPS on Street Trauma Research, Present Findings to Superintendent Chang

Colleen Locke | January 30, 2017
UMass Boston Honors College students explain their research findings to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang.

UMass Boston Honors College students explain their research findings to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang.
Image by: Colleen Locke

UMass Boston and CASH High School Students Collaborate on Photovoice Research Project

After spending the fall semester working on a qualitative research project on street trauma with Boston Public Schools students, students in Kristin Murphy’s Honors College junior research colloquium showcased their findings before the winter break at the main BPS offices in Roxbury.

UMass Boston students taking the class Understanding Their Experiences with Street Trauma: Youth Participatory Action Research Methods were co-researchers with students at Community Academic of Health and Sciences (CASH) High School in Dorchester on a photovoice research project. The project combines photos that the high school students took in their school and in their neighborhood with poetry and critical discussion. Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang was among those who came to view the finished product.

Empty library

Referring to a photo showing an empty library, psychology major Nora Portillo said the CASH students were frustrated that the doors to this library are always locked.

“You can see the books inside but they just can’t access it. And the students said that they themselves would go after school often to go study there, but now, because of it, they have to go to a different library farther out – go take the bus and then get home later,” Portillo said.

Poem called Mercy

For this project, CASH students took photos demonstrating street trauma and then talked to the UMass Boston students about their experiences. The high school students also wrote poems that illustrate the impact of street trauma, some of which were showcased in the exhibit that the UMass Boston students put together. The exhibit also included quotes from the CASH student interviews and thoughts from the UMass Boston students in the form of sticky notes.

Convenience store shows plexiglass separating clerk from customers

One picture the UMass Boston students selected and then annotated for the exhibit showed how plexiglass separates customers from the clerk at a convenience store. Other pictures showed trash in neighborhood streets and signs at school indicating it’s not safe to drink water from the sink.

Picture of non-drinkable water

Chang asked UMass Boston students what they learned through this project and the class.

“When I came in, I had an idea of what street trauma was and what I thought I would see. I learned to listen more to the people who were involved in it,” said biology major Rodney Bruno.

Biology major George Tarabelsi said that the street trauma the CASH students reported was in many cases more mental than physical.

“Street trauma can travel with you even to school – an environment where you feel safe. You can still feel separation,” Tarabelsi said.  

Janelle Ridley, program manager of Student Voice and Initiatives for Boston Public Schools, co-taught the junior research colloquium along with Murphy, assistant professor of special education in the College of Education and Human Development. Ridley met Murphy two years ago, and told her about the honors course she was teaching at East Boston High School where students could talk openly about the circumstances in their lives that prevented them from being successful.

“The majority of our students are living in areas that are unsafe, that are drug-filled and violence-filled and it impacts them getting to school safely, it impacts the way they maintain throughout their day,” Ridley said. “I said I’d really like to partner with UMass Boston because my kids don’t see themselves on a college campus, and that’s a problem for me.”

Murphy used funds from the Office of Community Partnerships’s Civic Engagement Scholars Initiative (CESI) to craft the UMass Boston class around youth participatory action research. The grant money paid for disposable cameras, the printing of the photos, and transcriptions of the high school student interviews.

“Instead of having the researcher looking at the research, it’s acknowledging the high school students. They’re the resident experts and they are the researchers. And kids can be researchers. And so it kind of turns things on its head,” Murphy said.

“We are delighted that Professor Murphy was able to partner with BPS to bring this important topic to our campus,” Honors College Dean Rajini Srikanth said. “This type of qualitative research, where specific communities and neighborhoods are active partners in the inquiry process and collection of data, is critical to the college’s mission to offer an interdisciplinary education that helps students create meaningful impacts outside the classroom.”

Honors College students are required to take a research colloquium class. This semester’s topics are decoding dominant narratives, citizen science, environmental sustainability and climate justice, and change leadership.   

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.

Tags: community , honors college

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