by Karen Winkler
WHAP! (the Women’s Health Action Project) is a participatory action research (PAR) project at Hostos investigating the health needs and concerns of women students, and the health disparities impacting their communities. Funded by a Community College Collaborative Incentive Research Grant (C3IRG) awarded to co-PIs Professors Karen Winkler and Sarah Sandman, WHAP! involves an interdisciplinary group of 10 women from the Hostos Community Health and Media Design programs in researching the conditions of their own lives, in order to change those conditions. The project engages the philosophy and methods of PAR: building from a disenfranchised community’s knowledge, explicitly seeking to raise critical consciousness among participants, and taking action to redistribute power to address inequities (Cahill, 2007; Torres, Fine, Stoudt, and Fox, 2012; Wang, 1999). As academic researchers in a PAR project we are learning to de-center ourselves: our job is to help our student-researchers develop skills to conduct research relevant to the needs and concerns of their own communities as they determine the questions, design, and interpretation of research they generate.
WHAP! employs Photovoice as a PAR methodology that was developed to train community members to participate in photo-documentation of community narratives, to produce and interpret visual representations of research (photographs), and to determine how to use their research to organize for change (Wang, 1999). The project asks the following research questions: how can Participant Action Research, and Photovoice in particular, enable women students at Hostos to articulate their health needs, understand the factors that shape their health, and claim power to represent themselves through writing and visual documentation? How can the Photovoice method help faculty understand our women students’ lives, health concerns, and learning needs, and work to engage them in critical inquiry, reflection, and advocacy, through the art of documentary photography?
The WHAP! student research team has been meeting for weekly half-day workshops and discussion sessions, and taking lots and lots of pictures to document the health of Hostos women. They hope to share their work with the community in exhibits and public meetings toward the end of the semester.