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Humans of the U: Ariel Richer – @theU

“I’m Afro-Indigenous and white. My people are from Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, so that’s an integral part of why I do what I do. I’ve spent the greater part of my career working on gender-based violence and the intersection of preventing substance use and sexually transmitted infections. Overall, I’m interested in culturally tailored interventions where work is done collaboratively with communities to develop interventions and solutions. My community work is very embedded and that is one of the reasons I came to the U, because there is a focus on new faculty working directly within communities. I knew my work would be supported here.

Community-based work is very important to me for many reasons. First, there is a long and not-so-distant history of unethical practices where majority-white researchers go into communities and extract information without really being involved in the community. This can happen in any community that’s been marginalized by dominant systems. Community-based research works by acknowledging the different power structures at play and working to empower people who are marginalized, because it’s just no longer acceptable to have people not part of your community do research on you, not include you in the process, and then write about you without your consent or knowledge.

In my case, even though I am Indigenous and Black and white, I still have the immense privilege of having a PhD, being a researcher and having attended an Ivy League school. So when I do community-based research, I integrate community members from the people I am working with into every stage of the process as much as possible. This includes everything from developing research questions to data gathering to data analysis.

When I do this, I cede some of my power to the community I am working with and we also create a situation where we are providing information and education to the community, not just taking data out of the community. This can take many forms, such as teaching people how to assess whether or not they want to participate in research or making the information gained from the research more accessible than just publishing a journal article.

We also work to support the idea that Indigenous people and communities have always been researchers. This is the reason we are alive. The people who came before us learned things about plants and animals and the world around us, and they passed that down in various written and oral traditions. That knowledge is how communities and societies have moved forward.”

— Ariel Richer, first-year faculty in the College of Social Work at the University of Utah

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