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GCSC Seminar: Building Inclusivity and Reciprocity in Community Research

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office


It started with a chainsaw. Dr. Nalini Nadkarni was conducting research inside a forest reserve in Costa Rica when she heard a chainsaw.

“It was at this moment when I heard this chainsaw just outside of the reserve that I realized I have to do something,” she says. “I wanted to somehow muster more people to the cause of helping trees and protecting forest than I could do just by staying in mainstream academia. And so, I began doing more public engagement work”

Join Drs. Nalini Nadkarni and Adrienne Cachelin, and graduate student Austin Green on Tuesday, March 16 at 4 p.m. to discuss the importance of community and collaborative research to efforts for justice and equity.

Nadkarni, a forest ecologist and professor in the U’s School of Biological Sciences; Cachelin, a professor of Environmental & Sustainability Studies and Director of Sustainability Education at the U, whose work emphasizes relationship-building between the academy and communities; and Austin Green, a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences and an expert in citizen science, may bring different experience and academic backgrounds to collaborative research, but they also share some important common principles.

“I realized that despite how differently we approach community inclusivity and research, there’s this basic fundamental commitment to inclusivity, to the idea that research between academics and communities is reciprocal,” Cachelin says. “Everyone grows, everyone communicates, everyone walks away with something.”

Nadkarni and Cachelin agree that collaborative research must be a reciprocal process, through which both researchers and community members learn and grow. “Think about being present without an agenda, try and think about doing research that isn’t extractive in nature,” Cachelin encourages researchers. “Think about being a part of something instead of apart from something.”

Collaborative research not only mobilizes people to act for social justice, but also is in itself a form of justice for the marginalized communities who are so often studied without reciprocity, Cachelin explains. “If we’re not giving [their] knowledge credibility, then we’re not working towards justice in any real way,” she says. “Their position makes them the experts in their own lives and in their own communities. And, without that information, I don’t really know how to do justice-oriented work.”

Nadkarni, who conducts ecological research with faith-based congregations, urban youth, and incarcerated people, explains that the benefits of collaborative research extend beyond community members to the scientists themselves. “They’re moving scientists, in some cases, to carry out social justice actions,” she says.

Nadkarni and Cachelin hope attendees leave the talk thinking about how their own research can serve communities. Join Nadkarni, Cachelin, and Green on Zoom on Tuesday, March 16 at 4 p.m. for a discussion about collaborative research that engages and serves the public respectfully, reciprocally, and in ways that honor different ways of knowing. This talk will not be recorded, so make sure to catch it live!