Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ)

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Lessons in University/Community Research Partnership: CASJ’s Story

Posted by casjcanada on July 15, 2008

*Panel presentation by Mila Garcia at Settlement Without Boundaries, June 26, 2008, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario. Sponsored by OCASI, CERIS, and Ryerson University, on the 30th Anniversary of OCASI.

The Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) was invited to present its experiences in university/community research collaboration, for a panel presentation during the “Settlement Without Boundaries” symposium, June 26, 2008, held at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario. The event was sponsored by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), CERIS-the Ontario Meteropolis,and Ryerson University. Following is the presentation made on behalf of CASJ, where the author is Director for Research.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this panel.

I will talk about academic-community research partnership, as experienced by the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), a four year old coalition of 27 organizations and over 200 individuals focused on working on social justice issues in the Filipino community in particular, and the immigrant community in general. In the process, I will draw out the elements that made it work, and point out its challenges.
I will touch on three research initiatives:

1. The ethnographic research documenting the process, dynamics, and outcome of a tragic incident four years ago that led to the emergence of a social movement in the Filipino community through capacity building

2. The research collaboration between CASJ and York university’s Dr. Philip Kelly, on labour market issues in the Filipino community affecting both professional and non-professional workers

3. The research on the live-in-caregiver program’s impact on the Filipino community’s most vulnerable and marginalized – Canada’s nannies

On the first research: When 17-year old Filipino-Canadian student Jeffrey Reodica died three days after he was shot in the back by an undercover Toronto police officer, not only the Reodica family but an entire community reacted with shock, pain and anger.

A flurry of activities ensued with community members showing unity and support to the family crying for justice. Press conferences, meetings, vigils, rallies at the police headquarters, pickets at the Special Investigations Unit, marches to the Coroner’s office demanding for an inquest, deputations at the Toronto Police Services Board, and many more campaign activities led by youth were held in community picnics, church gatherings, sports and social events . People, young and old, professionals, community media, community activists, lawyers, church congregations, educators, and many other community supporters spontaneously joined the campaign, offering what they could do and contribute to the effort – including their resources, skills, expertise, and networks. It was real capacity building at work, a phenomenon never before seen in that scale in this community in the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, more and more cases of injustice of a different kind experienced by other members were brought to the attention of this spontaneously organizing group, that in due time, the need to come up with a more sustained campaign, covering the other issues became apparent. It was easy to realize that even as there were successful campaigns in the past led by ad hoc committees, the Filipino community did not have a more permanent organization in the likes of CCNC, CASSA, Urban Alliance on Race Relations that other communities had to advocate for their issues. Due to community interest, a hastily organized conference before the end of that same critical year was well attended with over 200 people, including supporters from other ethnic communities. The conference resulted in two important things: (1) the Community Alliance for Social Justice was born, and was given the mandate to become the social planning, research and advocacy group for issues affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of the Filipino community; and (2) three priority issues were identified: youth, policing and community safety; the live-in-caregiver program; and access to trades and professions.

It was against this scenario of community ferment that we came to know Dr. Philip Kelly of the York University Department of Geography and his research on the Filipino community. After knowing a bit of his background and his research, he was invited by CASJ leaders to present his profile of the Filipino community based on the latest government statistics at the consultation conference. His participation was very well received, and it generated a lot of interest especially in the youth in understanding why the community they belonged to remained marginalized. As one high school youth told her mother after the conference: “Now I know why you have to work so hard for us.” Kelly’s study indicated among other things that Filipinos were among the highest educated, and yet among the lowest paid. Years after that conference, the same youth, now a university scholar, continues to attend CASJ’s major activities – including rallies, and the launch of our collaborative research study, this time with members of her family.

Dr. Kelly has since been doing research with the community. His work with CASJ has been a real collaborative effort – from planning stage, to implementation, analysis, writing and presentation. As a team, we would agree on who would take principal responsibility for specific portions of the research, including how we would present our output. We were clear on what each of us was bringing to the table: Dr. Kelly’s expertise in quantitative research; the community’s research expertise in conducting qualitative research; his access to official statistical data, and CASJ’s ability to engage grassroots participants meaningful research; and many other strengths each of the collaborators could share.

We had the experience of jointly presenting our collaborative research results in two major conferences and two community events. One was a workshop at the international conference, Community Crisis Response: Looking Through a Cultural Lens, whereby he presented the macro picture of the community, sharing statistical information derived from data sources that the community on its own would not have been able to access, due to costs, and established protocol restrictions (meaning only university-based researchers can have access to them); while I presented the micro situation.

When the final text of our research was written and completed, it was submitted to CERIS for publication. CERIS, following its rigorous criteria, approved the publication of our research, though not as an integrated paper, but as separate research entities that could stand on their own merits.
For CASJ, the publication of our research was a validation and affirmation that the ethnographic documentation of the community’s campaign for social justice, as researched and written using the participant observer approach, was a valuable scientific study.

The study describes the struggle for social justice that galvanized people into collective action, engaging the usually complacent and laidback Filipino community into meaningful participation in issues it considered important.

The launch of the two papers (Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement, by Philip Kelly, CERIS Working Paper No. 48, revised; and The Road to Empowerment in Toronto’s Filipino Community: Moving From Crisis to Community Capacity-Building, by Mila Astorga-Garcia, CERIS Working Paper No. 54) was co-hosted by CERIS and CASJ, and was attended by an estimated 120 enthusiastic community members and guests – including a lot of young people, their parents, educators, students, academics, policy researchers, caregivers and workers, lawyers, human rights advocates, and members of the Reodica family. Also present were Philippine Consul General Alejandro Mosquera, the representative of Mayor David Miller of the City of Toronto, the president of the Philippine Press Club-Ontario, and the two lawyers who represented CASJ at the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Jeffrey Reodica.

Also present was Chair of the Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, who, as an invited guest said he came just to listen, agreed to say a few words. His very candid message will never be forgotten by those involved in the campaign for social justice. He said: “I want to acknowledge the role of the (Community) Alliance for Social Justice …the fight you have consistently kept up is essentially the reason why these changes (in community policing) have happened. They did not happen out of the goodwill of anybody. I want to acknowledge that and to thank you for keeping up the pressure.”

Just to explain the result of that campaign: a Coroner’s inquest on Jeffrey’s death resulted in 7 jury recommendations meant to correct and improve police policies and practices so that a death like Jeffrey’s may not happen again. Four of these recommendations are now being implemented by the Toronto Police Service, according to Toronto Police Chief William Blair, and the rest are being considered; and there is now more openness among members of the affected community to work together on community-policing issues, even as the Justice for Jeffrey campaign continues.

Why I’ve gone into length telling you this story is because I wanted to show how when a real academic-community collaboration happens on topics and issues that resonate with the interests of a community, and it has a profound impact on the community, not only is it significant for its research value, but also, in this case, a contributory part to a community’s process of healing from a collective hurt, and efforts to move on. This is not to say, however, that the aftermath of the campaign, so far, is already good enough to the Reodica family, or even to all those deeply affected by the tragedy. And we should respect that.

On a broader and functional significance, the learnings from this research, as well as from the collaborative process involved, can be shared or transferred, or applied to any community in any crisis situation.

What made this collaboration productive? There was mutual trust; recognition and respect, not just in the research capabilities of both partners – in this case, Dr. Kelly and CASJ’s research team comprised of four of CASJ’s 21 Board members, including myself – but also in the belief that both parties have shared values with regard to social justice (and this was a very crucial factor that could not be simply gleaned from verbal pronouncements, but more on how the researcher worked with the community involved). The university-based researcher, a British Canadian, has demonstrated cultural competence in the way he has worked with members of the community, using the “pakikisama” approach, i.e. adapting to the cultural practices and traditions of the community, such as making sure that in any meeting or research gathering, there would always be food to be shared with everyone to partake in, including the researchers. Philip would also bring his entire family to community events involving family gatherings and you can see people are comfortable relating to him. And perhaps most important, in this and other collaborative initiatives with him, the community partner feels it is able to drive its own research agenda in this partnership – to use research for advocacy purposes — as it respects the agenda of the other party.

The next research collaboration looks into the labour market situation in the Filipino community, touching on issues related to access to trades and professions, and the dynamics in the workplace related to race, gender, power/subordination, promotion/demotion issues. This research involves both the survey and focus group methods. From the very start, both parties made sure they were clear that the community’s agenda was to use the results of this research as a tool in its advocacy work to improve access to trades and professions, and improve the labour market situation of Filipino workers in Canada. A thousand questionnaires were distributed through CASJ’s network; 470 were completed and returned, an impressive participation rate that speaks volumes of a strong community interest in this issue. The focus group sessions with Philip and the university researchers, as well as the community researchers in attendance, were held wherever and whenever the participants could be available (their workplaces, houses, churches, community centres, as many worked shifts and live-in-caregivers were available only on Sundays. The initial results of this paper, tentatively titled “The Deprofessionalization of Filipinos in Toronto,” which yet has to be completed and finalized, were jointly presented by Philip and myself in a workshop at the 10th International Metropolis Conference.

The third CASJ research project is a very interesting one, and this time, Dr. Kelly was not in the picture, due to other responsibilities. I was not leading the community research team, either, but Pura Velasco, a former caregiver, now a respected labour organizer, who has been a consistent advocate for caregivers for two years now.

If you recall late last year, another tragedy befell on another member of the Filipino community: caregiver Jocelyn Dulnuan was murdered at the Mississauga mansion of her employer. Once again, a concerned community was galvanized to show support to the campaign for justice for Jocelyn. A press conference by a hastily organized ad hoc group of community members and relatives of Jocelyn Dulnuan was organized, followed by a succession of other meetings. What was notable about these gatherings was a presence of huge numbers of caregivers, actively participating in fund-raising efforts to help with the family’s for Jocelyn’s funeral services, to be held in Ifugao, Philippines.

The incident rekindled caregiver’s concerns around safety in the workplace and other issues, prompting the need for community to support them. The Jocelyn Dulnuan Support Committee was formed composed of various organizations supporting the campaign, and a string of community gatherings, like mass/vigils, community meetings where several, sometimes hundreds of caregivers would attend. This Committee later joined up with Migrante Ontario and CASJ to form the Coalition for the Protection of Caregivers Rights.

The need to conduct research on the current situation of caregivers was identified by the caregivers themselves. The purpose was clear: to come up with research to support an advocacy campaign to improve not only the caregivers’ work conditions but also to effect changes in the special immigration program that has placed many of them in situations where they become vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and where access to needed services by virtue of their immigration status (a current example: the Juana Tejada case) is limited.

Concerned caregivers and advocates decided to initiate a collaborative research project with a university counterpart. The research was to use an innovative approach: tapping theatre for mobilizing, effectively engaging caregivers in important stages in the research such as information gathering; disseminating research results; using theatre to educate the greater community on the caregiver issue; training and in advocacy for policy changes.

Early on, this innovative research concept was brought up in a workshop with academic, community and policy sectors present. The general response was silence.

On another occasion, the idea was floated again with academics and it was met with candid questions: Has this method been tested, or can this methodological approach be scientifically and ethically operationalized; isn’t the research too ambitious? The community researchers felt there was one unexpressed question left unsaid from which all the above questions were derived: Are caregivers really capable of engaging in participatory action research using theatre?

Already one could tell that these were responses from researchers who were trained in conventional scientific research ideas, methods and protocols. Community researchers felt this grassroots community research innovative idea was being challenged. Was it because it was grassroots community initiating a research collaboration and not academia? Was it because it used a methodology that departed from conventional research methods? Or perhaps, did the caregivers have the necessary skills and experience for serious collaborative research?

I leave these challenging questions for the audience to ponder upon. Meanwhile, a recent research Philip and I had conducted revealed that in our survey sample of 470, 140 were caregivers and 80 per cent of them have college or university degrees. Many caregivers are engineers, teachers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and accountants. Some have research experience in their fields.

Fortunately, a university researcher who has done previous work on caregiver issues gave the innovative project serious thought, and worked with community to develop the formal research proposal. And although the research as formally proposed could not push through as yet, without the necessary funding, the caregivers decided to proceed anyway to implement their original project in a much limited scale and scope than the collaborative research.

Resolute in the effort to come up with an advocacy tool to promote their cause, as time for them was of the essence, a series of community meetings, advocacy training sessions, and strategizing sessions were held, which provided an opportunity for implementing the research as they had designed it. As a result, a caregivers theatre group under the CPCR is now in place. At first the caregivers had the benefit of having a university-based theatre writer and director initially work with them; later, however, the caregivers took charge of all aspects of the theatre with the lead community researcher, and have conducted a number of performances in various occasions, showcasing the result of their work in venues like the Workers Action Centre during International Women’s Day; at the University of Hamilton; at a community gathering at OPSEU; before members of the Filipino community media; at the recent Philippine Independence Day Picnic at Earl Bales Park, and the Promenade Mall day care centre during a caregivers assertiveness training session. Also, they have produced an impressive executive summary of their research findings and policy recommendations, titled “Respect and Dignity for Caregivers” which they produced into a simple photo-copied pamphlet format. That document has since gone a long way. It was submitted to an Ontario MPP and a Canadian parliamentarian, both advocates for caregivers rights, as well as to three Philippine legislators who recently visited Canada, and who have passed a motion in the Philippine Congress to investigate the plight of Filipino caregivers in Canada.

In conclusion, I would like to summarize what, to our experience, are the requisites that make for a successful academic/community partnerships:

1. Sincere mutual trust and respect in each other’s capabilities and integrity
2. Cultural competence through a sufficient knowledge of, and through the use of culturally sensitive ways of working with community
3. Sharing common values aligned with the ultimate goal of the research, i.e. seeking the truth, seeking social justice
4. Allowing community to initiate and drive its own agenda, e.g. using research for social planning, education, training and/or advocacy purposes; and understanding, accepting and respecting each other’s reason for coming into a collaborative relationship
5. Sharing resources and networks, from the planning stage, to implementation, documentation, dissemination of results
6. equal decision making relationship in all basic and crucial issues.
7. Openness in accepting and trying out innovative research ideas and methods, thus having the will and courage to go beyond conservative conventional research wisdom and approaches
8. Never under-estimating the capability of community researchers, even among new immigrants, or people “fresh off the boat” for they bring a wealth of knowledge, information, skills, and experience that is just as valuable as what academia here can offer.

I want to end with a story of Nathan Eusebio, an 18 year old Filipino immigrant, relatively fresh off the boat, but leading the pack of 145 graduates in a Scarborough high school during graduation ceremonies that happened two nights ago. He was not only class valedictorian, but the recipient of the Governor General’s Academic Medal for achieving the highest grades overall. In addition, he received six of the total of 11 Department Awards, that included excellence in Math, English, the Arts, Religious Education, Computer Technology, and Canadian/World Studies. Yet the kid has only been here for only four years, and may not yet even be a citizen. Described a music genius who leads the school band and plays a myriad of instruments, aside from having his own band; he also established the first student newspaper for the school, where he was co-editor. Seeing him being cheered by his fellow graduates each time he would go up the stage to accept his awards, you could tell he was their role model Everyone, including the principal and faculty, had nothing but glowing praises for him. The irony was, when he immigrated to Canada with his family four years ago, the second year student from a university-based high school in Manila was demoted to Grade 9 (the equivalent of first year), perhaps because of conventional wisdom and practice on the part of school authorities, that Third World education is substandard to Canadian education. Fortunately, after three months, Nathan, with an academic brilliance difficult to ignore, was moved up to Grade 10, and from that time on, he garnered the highest academic achievement in every grade level until graduation.

The new graduate confided he wants to become a Math teacher and has decided to study at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, so he can take up the offer by his high school to teach Mathematics in his school. Nathan’s proud parents say that teachers attest that students absorb math learning well from Nathan’s style of teaching. For sure, the school is by far richer with this young new immigrant’s contributions. For Nathan, this was his way of giving back to a school that allowed him to thrive and flourish.

What would have happened, may I ask, if conventional wisdom and practice had prevailed in Nathan’s case?

Thank you.


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