In the seventh installment of the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) Distinguished Researcher Interview Series, Nisha Gupta and Irene Strasser speak with Eva Maria Simms about her approach as a community-engaged qualitative researcher.
Dr. Eva Maria Simms is professor of psychology at Duquesne University, and Distinguished University Professor. She has over thirty years of experience teaching qualitative research, particularly phenomenological and community-engaged methods. She launched a research lab at Duquesne called ‘Placelab’ through which she mentors students in community-engaged qualitative inquiry to serve local communities of Pittsburgh. Eva was also the recipient of the 2020 APA Division 5 Distinguished Contributions to Teaching and Mentoring in Qualitative Inquiry award.
In this conversation, Eva outlines four community-engaged research projects that Placelab has conducted in collaboration with local communities in Pittsburgh for needs assessment and advocacy: a child-centric phenomenological method to help local schools develop playgrounds, photovoice projects about youth’s experiences of neighborhood spaces, some in contexts of gun violence and police brutality; a series of trauma training workshops for local community leaders called the Community Trauma and Resilience Collaborative Training (CTRC) Program, and a documentary filmmaking advocacy project called Juvenile Justice in Context that uses qualitative research to provide psychological and sociohistorical context regarding youth’s participation in gang violence. Eva provides insight into the importance of social positionality, relationship-building, longevity and sustainability, and using qualitative inquiry to influence the law. She also discusses how her community-engaged research is grounded in phenomenology’s pursuit of deep understanding of the structures of human experience.
For viewers interested in particular portions of the interview, we are including the following timestamps:
1:37 Eva discusses her evolution as a phenomenological researcher and developmental psychologist in adopting community-engaged methods, including a project in Pittsburgh’s Hill District that emphasized the importance of understanding sociohistorical and political context
8:20 Eva discusses ethical responsibilities towards needs assessment, relationship-building, and sustainability of projects, as well as reflecting on social positionality when doing research with communities of color as a White researcher
13:40 Eva describes four distinct research projects that Placelab has conducted (detailed above) in collaboration with graduate students and community leaders of Pittsburgh.
19:40 Eva provides advice for doing trauma-informed qualitative research to address persistent community trauma. She describes a series of trauma workshops that Placelab developed for local community leaders in response to the needs assessment of one of their research projects
23:20 Eva reflects on a research-informed documentary film Placelab produced as an advocacy project for a man in Pittsburgh who was unconstitutionally incarcerated as a juvenile ‘lifer’ without parole. She discusses the possibilities and limits of using qualitative research to influence the law, as well as the power of filmmaking to facilitate community empowerment.
37:30 Eva discusses phenomenology as the foundation of her approach to community-engaged qualitative inquiry due to its rigorous thinking about the structures of human experience, and how this deep understanding can lead to social change.
43:50 Eva provides advice for others in academic positions who wish to pursue community-engaged research: including ensuring that research questions derive from community needs, creating a tangible product that is given back to the community, and lifting up the good.