Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Lacey Stein

You’ve made it to summer! Week 10 has come and gone and you now you can relax! Yeah…maybe not relax, but you know…take a cognitive break from coursework at the very least (unless you’re taking summer classes which is a different can of worms :/ ). For your reading pleasure we have brought to you our fourth issue of Graduate Citings feature PhD student Lacey Stein! Lacey is working on some groundbreaking research that utilizes Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) to explore how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. By co-constructing knowledge with her participants, Lacey is cultivating an environment conducive for generating a dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices. Be sure to check out her advice to graduate students at the end of the post!

Researcher: PhD student in the Communication Studies Department at DU

Current Research: Presently, I am conducting my dissertation research using Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) methods. CPAR practices are community-based, oriented toward social justice, and based on a design that centers research participants’ perspectives through democratic relationships between academic researchers and community members.  These non-hierarchical relationships encourage community members to become co-researchers that direct the entirety of the research process from the articulation of research questions to the dissemination of outcomes. Because CPAR allows its participants to become co-researchers, this kind of research produces not only social justice outcomes, but also creates research processes that are empowering and agentic for the individuals involved. Using this methodological approach, I am working with a collective of six high school girls in the Denver area. Together, we are examining how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. Currently, we are in the early phases of data collection and coordinating semi-structured interviews with high school students, faculty, and administration.

This research will result in the completion of my dissertation, but beyond that, I hope to publish at least a couple co-authored articles with my research collective. We also plan to present information about our process and findings at regional and national communication studies and social justice conferences. Ultimately, one of my primary goals is to produce scholarship with my co-researchers that they can add to their resumes, college applications, and scholarship applications. In addition, we hope to take our findings out into relevant pockets of the Denver area so that we can engage community members—residents and officials alike—in dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices.

Collaborators: I work with Dr. Kate G. Willink, Drs. Erin K. Willer and Roy V. Wood (who has recently retired) from the Communications Department.

Initial Inspiration: For the whole of my academic and professional career, my goal has been to use my education and skills to foster social justice in the Denver area. I gravitated toward my specific methodological approach because I firmly believe that community members themselves know how to best improve upon the conditions that surround them. My chosen approach allows me to walk the walk, so to speak, of this belief. As such, my goal has been to offer the community members with whom I am working a variety of research tools and ideas that they can use in order to correct the social injustices that affect them in their everyday lives.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge in my current project really comes down to the fact that there are not enough hours in the day! My project allows me to wear many hats: with my collective of co-researchers, I enact the role of facilitator, researcher, teacher, student, mentor, and friend. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be working with my co-researchers, and I am benefiting from our work together in tremendous ways that go far beyond my obvious objectives of completing my dissertation and degree requirements. A huge component of my relationship with my co-researchers is that our work together should be mutually beneficial—and that means that I support my young co-researchers in whatever ways they deem appropriate. Providing this support and living out full-fledged relationships with my co-researchers is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of my work, but relationships obviously take a lot of time in addition to carrying out the more traditional pieces of research.

Research Advice: I have a couple pieces of advice for new DU graduate students.

  1. First, I think it is so valuable to constantly be questioning your own assumptions and to have the courage to refrain from getting too comfortable in what you believe to be true. Once you become wholly attached to any one belief, it’s really hard to keep yourself open to other’s beliefs—and, in my experience, remaining open to others’ perspectives has greatly enriched my ability to engage in ethical, responsible research.
  2. Second, it may sound trite, but don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions! Graduate students are often in a precarious position; because we are all trying to establish ourselves as experts in our field, we want to be taken seriously, we want to appear worthy of professional/academic job positions, etc.—but at the same time, we are here to learn, to be curious, to make mistakes, and to simply not know what to do at certain times. So, don’t be afraid to ask when you don’t know how to proceed with your work, remember all of the different, amazing resources you have available to you here, and take advantage of those resources! I think that being a student and having opportunities to learn is a phenomenal privilege, so embrace those moments during which you don’t know what to do next!

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