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The importance of social justice in academic research is nothing foreign to Dr. Lesley Harris of UofL’s Kent School of Social Work. Dr. Harris attributes her passion for social justice work to her experience of living in various communities across America,and learning to understand the root causes of the social problems that affect those communities, as well as their solutions. She notes that, even from the very beginning of her journey in higher education, the literature she encountered, as well as her practicum experience, allowed her to see the intrinsic relationship between social justice and the field of social work.

Dr. Harris is the Primary Investigator on the Consortium-supported “Our World, Our Say” research project, a community based participatory action research project which utilizes the Photovoice methodology. Photovoice is a qualitative method that allows community participants to utilize photography to document and reflect their reality. This method is typically used to shed light on the unique perspective of a given community and on their perceived needs and strengths, and findings can often be used to advocate for social change. Dr. Marion Hambrick (CEHD) and Dr. Kyoungmee Byun (Fine Arts) work alongside Dr. Harris and their community partner –HIV and Health Care Support Center located in Vietnam— to bring this project to fruition. Together, with the help of youth in Hai Phong, the project hopes to raise awareness about the issues facing these young people through photography exhibits and other forms of advocacy.

“Our World, Our Say” started this past summer in Hai Phong, Vietnam, where researchers worked with 25 young people who are being raised by their grandparents because their parents passed away due to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. Using photography and other methods, the youth involved in this project identified HIV and reproductive health, child labor, child sexual abuse, and substance use as the most important issues to focus on in their community.

The trandisciplinarity of the “Our World, Our Say” team is one of its greatest strengths. When asked about the benefits of working on a transdisciplinary team, Dr. Harris expressed gratitude to her co-researchers and the expertise they each bring:

“We wanted to be innovative in our methodology, [Dr. Hambrick] is an expert in social network analysis[...]. Very few Photovoice projects involve researchers who are artists, but to have an artist[Dr. Byun]has been invaluable, she’s given insight into how to exhibit the space to increase the message.”

To aspiring social justice researchers and activists, Dr. Harris recommends the workbook Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad–but she notes that it is specifically aimed at well-meaning white people. The workbook provides guided self-work and self-reflection about how individuals may be upholding the systems of white supremacy. Dr. Harris promises, “This[book]has completely, and overwhelming changed my life!”

The “Our World, Our Say” project’s Photovoice pictures will be available to view at the Hite Gallery on UofL’s Belknap campus, the Asian Institute Crane House, and at Northern Arizona University in 2020. Follow the Consortium on social media to learn dates as they are announced.

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