As a fairly new academic, I have this conversation with colleagues at least once a week. Making academic work relevant for both the higher education environments where we work and the stakeholders we serve can often become a daunting task. However, going back to a basic approach of conducting research, publishing work, and focusing on information dissemination is key to making this come to fruition.
As academics, we must not forget our stakeholders. This is often an issue particularly for scholars of color that come from communities of color that do work with underrepresented, minority, and even impoverished populations. Although many academics gain access to these communities to conduct research, it is rare that there is impetus to actually help those populations in some way. Thus, the academic work becomes cyclical and merely identifies the problem. This is problematic since research framed in this manner seeks to only confirm existing research instead of advancing the conversation, posing solutions or recommendations of the issue at hand.
Confirming the problem through research essentially becomes the nature and culture of academia at colleges and universities across the United States. Although, there are some changes such as academics that do action research, research regarding service learning, and auto-ethnography. Those instances are not widespread and not a normalized part of academic culture. Many academics follow appropriate guidelines set by the Institutional Review Boards housed at their institutions. The research is often conducted, analyzed, written, published, and in some cases the work is published in academic books. The authors and publishers make money from selling the research, and the academic journals in which we publish our work support our national academic organizations. Thus, everyone except the population under study stands to profit, advance or gain prominence in some way.
There may be a trickle-down effect for the population under study since the research is used to train future professionals in the field. Those professionals may in turn help the population. However, there is no direct requirement that researchers are actually responsible for helping the population they study in some way. At some point, we have to ask ourselves whether this behavior and business practice is ethical. More specifically, we need to figure out more responsible research practices that focus on how we can make our work more relevant to our populations under study. In other words, as scholars of color, how can we create more culturally relevant research in our respective fields that seek to investigate, analyze, challenge, and ultimately positively impact our respective fields and the communities where we conduct research?
At the outset of conducting research, scholars of color should ask themselves five questions:
In order to move toward a more meaningful and culturally relevant research approach, academics should focus on the approach of making their research important to the communities they serve and design a plan to serve the community in some way. As academics, gaining the trust of communities of color means nothing when your practices are perceived as being colonizing rather than culturally relevant.
Dr. Tiffany A. Flowers is an Assistant Professor of Education at Georgia Perimeter College. She is an Indiana Minority Faculty Fellow, Frederick Douglas Teaching Fellow, and an NCTE Early Career Award Leadership Award Recipient. Her research interests include African American literacy development, literature, diversity issues in education, and emergent literacy. Correspondence concerning this commentary may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.