Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 89: Ethics in Community-University Partnerships — with Kari Grain

Speakers: Fiorella Pinillos, Am Johal, Kari Grain


Fiorella Pinillos  0:06  
Soy Fiorella Pinillos, ESS Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of Below the Radar we are joined by Kari Grain, a practitioner scholar who works at the intersection of higher education, social justice and community engagement. Kari and Am discuss working in partnership with community across different university initiatives from community impacts of experiential learning to the ethics of community-engaged research, colonial.


Am Johal  0:45  
Hi there. Welcome to Below the Radar, really excited to have Dr. Kari Grain with us today. Welcome, Kari.

Kari Grain  0:52  
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. 

Am Johal  0:55  
Yeah and I was wondering if we can start, maybe introduce yourself a little bit.

Kari Grain  0:59  
Sure. Yeah. So my name is Kari Grain, I did my PhD in the Faculty of Education at UBC. And I've been working for the past few years teaching in community based participatory research methods courses at UBC as well. And then I've been working as you know, I've been working with you and some of the SFU folks on developing ideas and principles around ethical community engaged research. So lots of different hats that I'm wearing at the moment.

Am Johal  1:31  
I first met you at a community engagement conference. And we've had many discussions around community engagement, service learning, and all of those things. And there's other faculty members, people that I know that you've supported in their classes in terms of bringing in that type of work into the classroom. I'm wondering if you can maybe start by talking a little bit about what your doctoral dissertation was on, and how you approach service learning and community engagement broadly, in your work?

Kari Grain  2:00  
Sure, yeah. So my PhD was I did my fieldwork in a rural community in Uganda called chitin gazer. And I think one of the things that struck me about the literature in service learning and community engagement is that we have a lot of research out there on how students learn from something like service learning. And we know that there are a lot of benefits for them in many cases. And we've also seen those benefits play out for the institutions that run them. And I think there is a little bit of a lack of information and data to support how communities are actually impacted by those programs. So I was, in seeing that gap in the literature, I was kind of inspired to think about how this real community that has been hosting UBC students for at that point, when I started my research, they had been hosting UBC students for 10 years. And I was just interested to hear what they thought about it. And if they had seen changes and what those changes were. And that's kind of where that project began. So I connected with them. I will say upfront that I was fortunate that this is a program that, in my opinion, does a tremendous job of educating students for unlearning a lot of negative stereotypes and thinking through their own complicity in unequal systems of distribution worldwide. So there's, there's a lot of critical components that this program had, which made my job slightly easier in the sense of like, not needing to do a whole bunch of like critique of a program because that could have put me in a difficult position. So yeah.

Am Johal  3:42  
It seems to have a bit of an exuberantly affirmative narrative of itself. There's a fundamental divide between social justice and service learning and in community engagement sort of scholarship. And of course, that's a simplistic binary because there's a lot of crossover as well and value to different types of programs and how they're situated. But how do you approach it from your own context as someone who works in that interstitial space between university and community both in your teaching and research and in broader work?

Kari Grain  4:16  
Okay, that's a long question Am. The first thing I want to

Am Johal  4:19
I'll even throw in the follow up, which is you've, you've done work with nonprofit communities as well. So you have an outsider's perspective into the institution.

Kari Grain  4:28  
Yeah. Okay. So I want to start by saying I love your wording of, what did you say? Exuberantly affirmative view of itself?

Am Johal  4:36  
Exuberantly affirmative. 

Kari Grain  4:38  
Yeah, I think that's very true. Actually. It's kind of funny to hear it put that way. Do you mind if I use it in some future publication?

Am Johal  4:46  
Coined words. I never have time to write papers. So that's fine. 

[Both laugh]

Kari Grain  4:50  
We've been trying to write a paper together for like, three years. [Am laughs] We'll get there. We'll finish it. So yeah, it's interesting to hear you say that you see those two ideas, so social justice and some of the values embedded in social justice, and then the notion of service learning, which can be a lot more, I think it has a reputation, and rightly so for being somewhat charity oriented and even just the word service, I think denotes a certain way of interacting with community. So I did actually, funny enough, I was the assistant editor of a book. So I worked on it for two years, The Wiley International Handbook of Service-Learning for Social Justice. So I am often drawn to terms that have some tension with one another and this was a good example. But since we and DiAngelo have, like, you know, their principles of social justice, and I think a few that I can think of, one is that groups in society are differently valued, and that based on the value that they are ascribed, they have access to different levels of resources, and then to be for social justice. So if you're somebody that wants to be working for social justice, you have to do a few things. And one of those is like, critical reflection on your own power and privilege, and thinking about your own complicity in unequal systems. And then you add to that the idea, so there's the critical reflection, but then there's the action. So you have to take that knowledge you have to take if you're somebody that has white privilege, for example, you have to take that and work for change. And I know DiAngelo is a name that has been popping up a lot right now, because of her work on White Fragility and everything that we're seeing happening in the United States right now. So, for me, I really like those principles of social justice. And I think there are programs that call themselves service-learning programs that do follow those principles, and teach students those things. I also think that there are service-learning programs that are in some ways, you know, living. Perhaps I wouldn't say living in the past, but they're very much living in the present. And they can promote fairly harmful messages to students and reify stereotypes and those sorts of things. So I think that social justice and service-learning can, you know, stand in opposition to each other. But I also think that service-learning can take up very important questions and goals of social justice. I will say, though, that I think the term service-learning is on its way out, if it hasn't already left, yet, it's on its way out. Because there is rightly sort of a distaste over that framing of engaging with community. 

Am Johal  7:33  
Now you're teaching courses where you're going through materials related to these topics. And you've also been working at an institutional level where you were involved with others in writing a report with recommendations to the institution. I'm wondering if you can talk about that a little bit as well?

Kari Grain  7:51  
Sure, well, maybe I'll start with the teaching that I've been doing. And then I'll move to the large research project and recommendations that I helped develop. So in terms of teaching, I'm actually currently teaching a course, it's a graduate level course called, it's a very long title and even me, as the instructor, I can't remember what the full title is. But in any case, it's global citizenship and cross cultural conceptions of teaching and learning. And that's been, you know, it's a fascinating time to be teaching this course, because of COVID-19 and what we're seeing in terms of disparities, you know, who is having access to adequate health care, etc. So having some of those conversations has been really interesting. And then just this past week, the murder of George Floyd. You know, I pivoted my whole course and took pretty much everything we were going to be learning in week four, and sort of rewrote the week in a way. Took conceptions of critical social justice and thinking about how they overlap with racism and anti racist work. So that's one course that I'm teaching, it's sort of immediately on my mind. But yeah, for the past few years I've been teaching a pair of courses at UBC, in the Faculty of Arts that orient students to community based participatory research methods. And for the first course, it's a prerequisite for the second course. So we have that in January to April, I teach the foundations of, you know, decolonizing research methodologies and just unlearning some of the assumptions we have about what constitutes expertise. What constitutes somebody's knowledge or who has the right to speak their knowledge and share their knowledge. And then in the second course that they then take, it's actually an international service learning placement, where they go and they essentially we are in contact all year, the previous year with those community partners and we asked them, What would you like students to be working on next year when they come? And they basically design projects that we then assign students to, so it is very much community led in that way. And they spend three months immersed in that community and take the lead of the local people who are doing the work. So they go to Uganda and India and Kenya, and Costa Rica. This year of course, unfortunately, all their placements were canceled for summer due to COVID-19. So that in a nutshell, has been my teaching. And did you want me to speak now to the report?

Am Johal  10:22  
Yeah, to the report, you recently worked on at UBC with colleagues?

Kari Grain  10:27  
Sure. Yeah. So that has been a fascinating project about two years ago, I guess two and a half. Now, some leadership folks at UBC came to me and said, we have been talking a lot about experiential education in the strategic plan, and we're seeing a new strategic plan come out that mentions this concept a lot. And we need to have a better understanding of how, like, what does community-engaged research have to do with experiential learning? What's the relationship with community engaged learning and co ops and internships and, you know, there's a lot of different terms being used that somehow have a relationship to experiential learning, but without, without much clarity on what the differences are between all those things. So in a sense, they asked how would you do a project like this, and then I basically went to it. So my job was to map what's happening in terms of experiential education across UBC, not an exhaustive like, I wasn't doing any quantitative research, it was very much just like a lot of meetings with people who know their different realms. So I interviewed many professors across most UBC faculties, and I held focus groups. And I actually generated a blog site So I wanted a place, in the spirit of community engaged research, even though the community I was working with was very much sort of a university centered community. I wanted a space where I could disseminate the findings as I gained them because I didn't want it to be some report that gets generated at the end and just thrown on the shelf. So I created that website. And it's been a really neat way to communicate with people and share what's going on and hear how people are interacting with the website as well. And in the end, it has led to a set of recommendations to the provost office on how to better support experiential education at UBC. Yeah, it's been interesting, because experiential education is so many things that it's like, well, what is it not? And what we've found is that, you know, folks who are doing community engaged learning or community engaged research, are facing really different barriers, then a really well funded, well supported university wide program like Co Op. So different barriers, different challenges.

Am Johal  12:54  
And I imagine there's complicated questions that come up around the tenure review process and those types of things. If someone already has tenure, and is doing this work, but for someone who's in an early career where it's not necessarily valued in the tenure review process, in some faculties can be a real barrier to doing this type of work I imagine.

Kari Grain  13:12  
Oh, absolutely. And it's interesting, because, anecdotally, I didn't do research on this question. So I don't have any like stats to support this. But anecdotally, a lot of the people who support experiential education at UBC, and also community engaged learning or community engaged research, a lot of them are women scholars, and racialized scholars and Indigenous scholars. And so if you have this tenure and promotion process set up in a way that doesn't properly support the work of experiential education and the immense amounts of time that go into the relational aspects of it, like maintaining and sustaining these relationships with community who are very much the teachers of many of these programs. If you don't support that work, then you're actually contributing to the further discrimination and marginalization of those very scholars who are already facing those things. So it's interesting how those have some kind of an interplay.

Am Johal  14:11  
Now Kari, you've also been moonlighting with us at SFU. I mean, it's all aboveboard. Of course, yes. But you've been doing some particular research around community engaged research, which is, you know, another term universities and researchers love terms. And what have you found in your work as you've researched that particular term and the different ways that people approach it?

Kari Grain  14:34  
Well, as I found with experiential education, that whole project and one of the things I'm finding with this project is, again, just the the many different terms that different groups are coming up with to describe the work that they're doing in you know, that is that some sort of intersection of conducting research in with led by communities. And so I guess one of the first things that I found more recently that helped to clear things up for me is that I think about now that I've read a bunch of literature, I think about community engaged research, as sort of a broad spectrum, you know, a variety of different research approaches that can be used. And you can think about community based participatory research or community led research projects at the end of the spectrum that involves community in every step of the process. And then, you know, there are ways that you can involve community in fewer aspects, but they are still involved to some extent. So community engaged research can include a lot of, you know, anywhere along that spectrum. That was kind of a new learning for me, was understanding like, well, what is the umbrella term? And what are the other terms along within this group?

Am Johal  15:49  
So you've been a PhD student who has researched this work, you've presented at conferences, you have taught in classes, you have as a university administrator, come in and develop recommendations to this work. And you know, one of the questions that always comes up is, how can universities better integrate the teaching, research and learning mission of the university with community engagement? And from your unique vantage points, how do you think about it now, as you've been immersed in it for so long, and had a chance to research it in its various forms?

Kari Grain  16:26  
Oh, that's a big question. I think that there is work to be done at like every level of the university in terms of, I'll start with, you know, the provost level and like the higher leadership levels, because one of the biggest barriers there from what I've observed is that VP, teaching and learning will have a distinct portfolio and VP, external and VP, you know, every university has their slightly different takes on the names. But often, what you see is that approaches or ideas that span across many portfolios, don't always get the full attention of any one provost. And therefore, it can sometimes fall between the cracks. And I'm talking about like experiential education, I'm talking about community engaged research or community engagement work in general, because they don't just belong under one portfolio, they're everybody's job. And so I think one of the struggles is overcoming these, you know, essentially the restrictive budgets of like, different portfolios. And it does, unfortunately, come down sometimes to money and being able to resource these things that really defy being fit into one category. So there's that and it's similar to the struggle of interdisciplinary work, right? When you're something that exists across different disciplines whose responsibility is it? So that's just like the organizational level. But I know in talking to a lot of the people who do the work on the ground, that's where some of the frustrations come in, is how is it being supported at the leadership level? And in terms of what we can do at the, you know, people who are educators, people who are students, people who are working with community partners. For me, there's a real responsibility that we are educating anybody who's working in and with community on ethical principles of how to do so. And that doesn't just mean that you are filling out your behavioral research ethics board application. And, you know, in my classes with students, when we talk about CBPR, I say, just because you get ethics approval does not make your research ethical, because working with community has different ethical principles, depending on which community you're working with, then working, you know, just your ethical responsibilities as a researcher. So sometimes you're going to see those actually bumping up against one another, those ethical principles of your job as a researcher and your job as someone who is working with community. So I think that, you know, doing broad education, and deep learning and unlearning around ethical principles of working with community is, is a huge responsibility. And it takes a lot of resources and time. So I could go on. [Both laugh]

Am Johal  19:18  
Yeah. It's definitely a long game approach. I think about my own context in terms of coming to work at SFU at the school for Contemporary Arts, and a lot of the things that we initiated. It was very hard to figure out what the approval process was to initiate new programs. It was always kind of done by pilot projects that just happened to repeat into year two, year three. And then 10 years later, it was just sort of normal, you know. And so these kinds of things about how experimentation happens, how the systems of university's bureaucratic processes work against relational aspects of the work. And there's a lot of literature around porousness and I like to use the word smuggling because there is a kind of politics of mediation in play when you're trying to take university resources out into the community, and vice versa, bringing community into the doors of the university in new ways. 

Kari Grain  20:11  
That's huge.

Am Johal  20:11  
In terms of broadening the impact. And something I still think about because the barriers don't go away and even moving out of a startup to creating a more sustained project, you lose something in that initial inertia, when you're opening up a new space where everything is quite wide open. When I would talk to colleagues across the country, be it at the University of Saskatchewan or Concordia, you know, it's a very similar kind of arc, as well, because there's a need to stabilize a startup scenario inside of an institution and community engagement offices and various structures. And, and definitely, depending on where you're situated inside the institution, there are different barriers in place if you're an academic versus external relations.

Kari Grain  20:55  
Yeah. That idea of access is so fascinating, because I don't think a lot of my students really realize until we start unpacking it, and reflecting on it, how much access they have to different communities, to being able to cross borders, to being able to move between neighborhoods, and the privilege of access to many different people to different scenarios. And I think one of the barriers, and you've probably seen it before, too, is like, how do we, you mentioned bringing community into the doors of the university. And like, how do we give? How do we give community members access to what you know, the libraries, the spaces, the all sorts of things? And I know that at the CTU Expo, The Community to University Expo, I was so happy to see that they had the option, you could apply for funding to bring your community partner to the conference. And not all conferences have that. And I think every conference should have that because of the nature of the work that we do. And there's real problems like ethical issues with representing somebody else's knowledge if they don't have the opportunity to be there as well. And through that funding, I was able to bring my community partner, one of them from Uganda, down to him the subway and at CTU Expo we co presented together and like, I can't think of many conferences that could have funded somebody to fly from Uganda to be with us and present. So that was, for me, one of the highlights of my research career so far, was having that opportunity. And I hope that other conferences and university spaces follow suit with that.

Am Johal  22:39  
Anything you'd like to add Kari?

Kari Grain  22:41  
No, I think we've covered lots of items in a fairly short time. But I do want to say Am, I appreciate the work that you're doing. And you have from my perspective, I think you're such a community connector, and I really enjoy observing you in the community because I know people have a lot of respect for you and the work that you do.

Am Johal  23:00  
Oh, that's sweet. Thank you Kari. Wonderful and I look forward to working with you for many years as we build up the community engaged research initiative as well. And thank you for joining us on Below the Radar.

Kari Grain  23:11  
Okay, thank you.


Fiorella Pinillos  23:13  
We hope you enjoy our interview with Kari Grain. Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast produced by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Learn more about Kari's projects by following the links in the show notes. Grazia political channels yes that approxima


Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
November 17, 2020

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