Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Erin Winkler, Arijit Sen, Amy Harley
Community engagement, Critical Race Theory, Food systems, Health equity, Structural racism, Urban processes
Community-engaged research is an increasingly popular approach to research whereby academic researchers pair with community partners (e.g., non-profit organizations, governmental agencies) in attempts to leverage the knowledge and expertise of the academy to address challenges in communities, which are often vulnerable under-resourced urban communities of color that have been sites of systemic disinvestment. Though a promising approach, these community-academic research partnerships face myriad challenges related to: administrative and funding challenges that impede effective CEnR; tensions related to power-sharing and racial dynamics between primarily white researchers and community members of color; academic traditions that govern researchers’ career priorities and result in priorities that differ from those of the community; and longstanding histories of exploitative and extractive research practices within communities of color.
Focusing specifically on CEnR aimed at addressing food-related challenges currently facing many US cities, this dissertation examines the complex negotiations and challenges common in CEnR partnerships. Through interviews with academic researchers and community partners in three post-industrial cities (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Baltimore, Maryland, and Detroit, Michigan), key themes emerged about best practices and challenges associated with CEnR, specifically CEnR aimed at addressing food-system related challenges.
Drawing on results from these interviews – and incorporating scholarship on CEnR, food systems, public health (and other disciplines that frequently conduct CEnR), race/racism, and recent and historical forces, systems, and structures that have shaped urban communities of color – I argue for informed intentionality for researchers entering their communities to partner on this type of research. Specifically, I argue that – due to the systemic nature of the challenges facing communities – isolated “one-off” initiatives that do not consider the root causes are unlikely to be successful in making sustainable change. And that communities of color (often both the community partners and the subjects of CEnR) often arrive to CEnR with skepticism due to past harm done by research to themselves personally, their community members/residents, or communities of color broadly speaking. In light of these past harms, community members may employ “hidden transcripts” and other gatekeeping practices to protect themselves and their communities. I argue that it is incumbent upon researchers to prepare accordingly, having worked to understand the complexities within the communities with which they intend to work, and understanding the importance of relinquishing power in efforts to center the community members who are closest to the challenges being addressed. Finally, and importantly, I describe throughout this dissertation how CEnR is situated within a complex interplay of structures, traditions, and histories that have subordinated communities of color. As such, I argue that it is critical that researchers – who stand to benefit professionally from CEnR – to enter the community reflectively and humbly, and understanding the potential they hold – not just for addressing challenges – but for reinscribing past harms to communities of color.
DeNomie, Melissa Holmquist, "How Effective Is Community-Engaged Research at Addressing Food Challenges?: A Qualitative Examination of Perspectives of Academic and Community-Based Researchers" (2023). Theses and Dissertations. 3254.
Available for download on Thursday, August 28, 2025