Research & Impact
Since its founding in 1984, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture has used historical research, cultural preservation, social science data, public policy, and community-engaged scholarship to implement its mission to provide critical information to policymakers, scholars, and other key stakeholders on the experience of the Black community in Massachusetts. This is evidenced by our various publications including our peer-reviewed journal The Trotter Review, a policy report series Resilience, our annual newsletter The Trotter Gazette, as well as our weekly podcast Black in Boston and Beyond. In our podcast, Trotter director Dr. Hettie V. Williams has interviewed community members, scholars, writers, politicians, and culture workers.
Core Area 1: Historical Research and Demographic Studies
We have over the years provided historical analysis and demographic studies about the Black population in Massachusetts and in New England more generally. The Black population in Boston and the greater New England area is complex and contains many ethnicities including African Americans, Haitians, Cape Verdeans, Africans (including from various regions of the continent), and Jamaicans to name a few. Articles in the Trotter Review though interdisciplinary in scope have provided deep historical, social science, and policy analysis of the issues, concerns, and challenges facing this population through a discussion of history, culture, and current events. We have also issued reports based on the U.S. census, government data sources, and the American Community Survey. These reports combine historical analysis with quantitative data to deliver a portrait of Black society and culture in Massachusetts as well as beyond.
Core Area 2: Digital Humanities, the Study of Culture, and Community-Based Research
The William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture has a long record of providing public programs to faculty, staff, students, and community members in the Boston area. This is evident with programs such as our “Black Thought Matters” series and more recently with the student Art Contest in January 2024 (student participants were invited to develop an original work of art based on the theme: the Black community and social justice). We also provide technical support to community members seeking to preserve Black history and culture through digital humanities approaches including telling their stories on our weekly podcast, digital exhibits, oral history interviews, and in virtual symposia such as with our recent program “Philosopher King: MLK’s Ideas and Philosophical Thought” to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” We soon hope to expand our activities more broadly into implementing more extensive online exhibits related to pivotal events in the history and culture of Black society in Boston as well as projects involving historic preservation of physical landmarks important in this community. These projects all have and will continue to include the participation of community members as co-principal investigators, collaborators, and researchers.
Core Area 3: Public Policy Research
Public policy research has been core to the Trotter’s mission since it was founded in 1984. This is illustrated in studies and demographic reports completed by the institute that integrate historical analysis with social science approaches and public policy research. We have collaborated with our CANALA partners, government agencies, businesses, community members, and foundations in areas such as education, health, and STEM to impact public policy in the Boston area and New England. Some of our most recent work has included a policy report on the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community in Boston, race, ethnicity, and substance abuse within this population, as well as a study on equity in education. We have also participated in studies on aging using public policy methods.
Current Research Projects
The Trotter Institute has been invited to serve with other CANALA institutes and representatives across UMass Boston to advise Bala Sundaram, Vice Provost for Research & Dean of Graduate Studies and Apurva Mehta, Interim VP for IT Information Technology on implementation of a National Science Foundation award titled “Addressing Digital Access Gaps in Education” [ADAGE], intended to provide information technology resources and knowledge to about 200 members of the UMass Boston student body and 100 families in ‘anchor communities’ that UMB serves who are most likely to benefit from these resources. These resources include:
- Retrofitting classrooms to follow the HyFlex model to improve UMB’s ability to provide educational content in a synchronous online modality
- Microsoft Surface laptop computers and educational software, and Verizon broadband access ‘hot spots’
- IT skills-building courses, including Digital Inclusion Program; with Skillsgapp to offer educational content using gamification; ‘Everyone Can Code’ workshops, and UMB professional development courses
- STEM/STEAM coding, cybersecurity, technician, and work-based learning programs
The Trotter Institute will work with the ADAGE project to help identify UMB student participants, and community family participants from Dorchester, as well as assist in program design, implementation, and evaluation.
The Trotter Institute has worked with the Gaston Institute for Latino Policy, the Institute for Asian American Studies and the Institute for New England Native American Studies on a project funded by the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to learn about the perceptions of and experiences with the opioid crisis and substance abuse generally, and ways that BSAS can better meet the needs of communities of color in Greater Boston. Michael Johnson and Aminah Pilgrim are co-principal investigators for the Trotter Institute portion of the project. This needs assessment has been performed through focus groups. The Trotter Institute has organized two focus groups for Cape Verdean residents of the Boston area, and ministers of African-American-serving Christian churches in Boston to discuss substance abuse, and is organizing another focus group with Haitian American residents of Boston. Our findings include that shame, stigma and stereotypes about substance abuse are widespread in our communities, and that BSAS will have to do much more to engage with linguistically and culturally diverse Black and African diaspora communities to ensure that people know who they can talk with and learn from to reduce the harms associated with substance use, misuse, and abuse. The contract for this project has been renewed by BSAS for 2023 – 2024; field research will continue, and emphasis will be on more rigorous data analysis and policy recommendations.
Previous Research Projects
Boston AgeStrong Commission
The Trotter Institute has worked with the Gaston Institute for Latino Policy and the Institute for Asian American Studies on a project funded by the Boston AgeStrong Commission to learn about information inequity among elder communities of color in the city of Boston, and needs of our elders for new and improved programming and services. Michael Johnson worked with UMB doctoral student Nyingilanyeofori Hannah Brown between October 2022 – June 2023 to arrange interviews with eleven service providers, elected officials, faith leaders and community residents that provided valuable information about unmet needs of our elders for programs, services, funding and information in ways that are culturally responsive and flexible.
Boston Public Schools
The Trotter Institute has worked with the Gaston Institute for Latino Policy, the Institute for Asian American Studies and the Institute for New England Native American Studies on contract with Boston Public Schools to support their ethnic studies curriculum development project. From November 2021 – June 2023, the CANALA institutes developed their own case studies of themes, events and places that would provide special insight to Boston’s public-school students about their own communities. The Trotter Institute’s case study, co-directed by Michael Johnson and Denise Patmon, addressed the history of the Columbia Point public housing community, from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s, and its replacement by Harbor Point on the Bay, and the impending development of Dorchester Bay City on the site of the Bayside Expo Center. With the invaluable assistance of UMB sociology masters student Debby Fernand and Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student (and UMB alum) Christian Walkes, the team assembled primary and secondary source documents, examples of arts and creative expression connected to housing and community development, explorations of core ethnic studies frameworks related to Columbia Point, and many other resources that are expected to support innovative teaching and learning about Black resistance and community development in the neighborhood where UMB is located.