Thank you for your thoughtful comments and feedback on our proposed project. We are excited about diving into this work related to systemic racism in a community that has experienced historical trauma on multiple levels. Your comments are helping us to think more deeply about our proposed activities, especially our outcomes. I’d like to respond to your first of three ideas (on translational methodology).
As director of the Xavier University of LA Community Outreach Center, I am partnering with the Peace Center in Gert Town (New Orleans, LA). In my role as director, I collaborate with Gert Town community stakeholders to identify issues of concern in their neighborhood and assist in developing solutions with them, using the resources from the Xavier Univ of LA campus. My area is culture-centered counseling with a specialization in exploring the relationship between systemic oppression and traumatic stress symptomology. In order to engage in my research that is typically culturally situated, I have employed culture-centered or emancipatory research methods (West-Olatunji, & Wolfgang, 2017; West-Olatunji, Jean-Paul, Shure, Goodman, & Lewis, 2014). This approach is often found in educational research literature and is correlative to translational research in the health sciences. I have integrated this methodological approach in grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published several articles in peer-reviewed professional journals, nationally and internationally. Additionally, I use culturally responsive program evaluation methods, having served as a fellow with the American Evaluation Association in (2015-2016). Both of these approaches allow for my team of researchers to reach a level of credibility and truthfulness in our findings that is otherwise often elusive and sometimes hegemonic.
Culture-centered researchers are asked to: (a) give voice to the lived experiences of socially and culturally marginalized populations, (b) go further than answering the research question to improving the lives of those being investigated. Researchers using this methodology practice “methodological activism” and take a stand on harmful social issues. Finally, culture-centered research methods highlight the researcher’s trans-subjectivity to bring transparency and (researcher) transformation to the research process.
Culturally responsive program evaluation involves: (1) diverse evaluation teams, particularly those that include representatives from the community and thus reflects multiple cultural perspectives, (2) engaged stakeholders and understanding that the social location of the evaluator is essential to credible outcomes, (3) the use of culturally responsive measurement tools, (4) an awareness of power dynamics (both within and outside of the community, (5) authentic collaboration with stakeholders throughout the evaluation process, and (6) the strategic use of qualitative methods.
Use of emancipatory research and culturally responsive program evaluation methods in this particular project will be especially useful in working with the Gert Town residents. This past year, we engaged in a clinical needs assessment over the fall and spring semesters, gathering data from observations, informal and semi-structured interviews. In doing so, we utilized a social justice-oriented application, MiRealiti, that allowed the data collection team to capture critical moments in the community and share them simultaneous and in real time with the other members of the team. We were also able to share our preliminary findings with community stakeholders at the end of the data collection period to receive feedback on our interpretation of the findings.
With our use of culturally responsive program evaluation and emancipatory research methods, we anticipate that the findings from this proposed project will be relevant to other communities nationally as well as globally.
Cirecie A. West-Olatunji, Ph.D. Xavier University of Louisiana
Again, thank you for taking the time to carefully review our proposal and offer focused comments on how to strengthen our presentation. I have provided a thoughtful response to your first idea in relation to translational research methods. Here is my response to your third idea.
You are “spot on” to remind us to talk about the spirituality evident in the Gert Town community. While health researchers have shown that patients’ sense of spirituality has been useful in ameliorating pain symptoms with cancer patients and reduction of substance abuse among addicts, in general, there are some specific and unique aspects of African Americans’ sense of spirituality. For African Americans, spirituality is part and parcel of their resilience against very harsh conditionals politically and socially. Also, their sense of spiritually is culturally informed, shaped by shared views and values, across socio-economic classes and geography.
Additionally, the involvement of five different and distinct religious organizations of which the Sisters of Peace is only one (the others include a Catholic seminary and three churches (Catholic, Baptist and Methodist). Prior research exploring the relationship between African Americans and spirituality have suggested that this population has used their relationship to God to garner strength to engage in civil disobedience during slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights Movement, in particular (Ani, 1992; Cone, 1970). Additionally, several years ago, I received a grant from the African American Success Foundation to explore parenting practices among the parents/caregivers of academically successful low-income African American elementary students. The results of that study suggested that African American parents used their spirituality to deal with often hostile school personnel who were marginalizing the schoolchildren and, by extension, their parents (West-Olatunji, Sanders, Mehta, & Behar-Horenstein, 2010). Although we cannot be certain that the Gert Town residents will reflect the prototypical characteristics of an African American spirituality style, we anticipate that residents and other stakeholders in this community will articulate elements of the traditional spiritual worldviews evident in other similar communities.