Kyle in Taos and Honolulu

Kyle is a junior President’s Scholar majoring in biology, individual studies in applied scientific computing and human rights in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Kyle is participating in Engaged Learning and also was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. During summer 2013, he interned at two nonprofit organizations: Taos County Economic Development Center, where he examined how economic development corporations can help nonprofits empower communities, and Ke Ola Mamo Native Hawaiian Health Services, where he examined how one local nonprofit is able to work directly with the community.

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Second thoughts

Just two days after forming my idea for research on TCEDC’s impact in the community, almost everything seems to be in line: TCEDC’s directors have said my research is an important need; Dr. Nibbs, my cultural anthropology professor and mentor for the internship, has helped me to outline a plan and create interview questions; and I already have started some preliminary interviews with several of TCEDC’s clients.

Yet I already have some hesitations about the whole thing.  As good as the idea may sound, it ultimately came from me, an outsider, rather than the community.  The distinction is significant: not only does my outsider’s perspective compromise my ability to do research, but it also establishes an undesirable relationship that places me in control over the community, and even opens the possibility of harming the community.  The social sciences have recently started to take an introspective look at these relationships as well as the ways research has had unintended negative consequences on communities.  Even if my research sounds benign, if not beneficial, it runs into the very same problems described above.

In response to these concerns, the social science community has developed a process to more effectively involve the community in research, known as Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR).  This process holds promise but takes a lot of time and planning, making it virtually impossible for me to accomplish in my short time here.  I’m uncertain about how to address the issue.  Although I won’t let it stop my research, I will be doing so with much deeper contemplation and sensitivity.

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