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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UMass Amherst Researcher Authors Article on Place, Identity, and Youth

Dr. Louis Graham, assistant professor of community health education at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, leads a team of researchers reporting findings on place, identity, and youth in an article titled “Spatial Stigma and Health in Postindustrial Detroit.” The article, available in the February issue of International Quarterly of Community Health Education, is the result of a Ford Foundation funded research project, Detroit Youth Passages, which is dedicated to understanding how young people’s life circumstances impact their lives as well as promoting positive change.

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[Photo: Dr. Louis Graham]

“We’re contributing to the growing body of research suggesting that those who reside in socially and economically marginalized places may be marked by a ‘stigma of place’ that influences their sense of self, daily experiences, and relations with outsiders,” says Dr. Graham.

During summer 2011 researchers interviewed 60 African American and Latino youth of diverse gender and sexual identities, about their perceptions of their surroundings in Detroit, MI.

“When participants were asked to describe their communities, they often referred to the physical landscape as decaying and dilapidated, using negative evaluative terms such as ‘abandoned,’ ‘burned out,’ ‘filthy,’ or ‘ghetto,’” writes Dr. Graham and his co-authors in the article. Along with these perceptions, the researchers found some residents had similar negative views of themselves and their community.

“I feel like I might get a distraction of being in my neighborhood,” said one resident. “Like, I might be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be motivated to go to school no more. I’m gonna quit. It’s nothing. I’ll just stay here in Detroit with everybody else,’” she added.

The researchers note that the connection between negative views of the landscape and residents’ own perceptions of themselves is an important research finding.

“By understanding these stigma, we can work to find solutions and ways to positively impact the lives of young people living in vulnerable and risky situations that rob them of their ability to reach their potential,” Dr. Graham explains.

Dr. Graham is the co-author of an another recent publication, “Theater and Dialogue to Increase Youth’s Intentions to Advocate for LGBTQQ People, ” which appears in the March issue of Research on Social Work Practice. In this article, the researchers examined the results of an intervention that used theater and dialogue to raise awareness among middle and high school students about homophobia and transphobia. The study found that the intervention tended to increase advocacy among students for their peers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth. In addition, participants reported greater recognition of discrimination against LGBTQQ peers.