Community Connectors: Glennon Sweeney

News — January 9, 2023

Community Connectors: Glennon Sweeney

January 2023

Community Connectors is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State staff members who have shown leadership in partnering with our communities to make an impact.

Glennon Sweeney
Senior Research Associate
Office of Academic Affairs/The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

My research focus is at the intersection of land use and development policy and metropolitan segregation, with an emphasis on suburban spaces. My discipline is city and regional planning. As a native of Columbus and a local history enthusiast, much of my work focuses on connecting historic and current policies (specifically land use, development, housing and education policies) to inequality and seeking policy remedies. My engaged work tends to focus on informing policy or democratizing data and information, particularly historical information that can help explain inequality. Right now, I am leading a collaboration (funded by the Ohio Bar Association Foundation and Martha Holden Jennings Foundation thank you!) in partnership with Otterbein's Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Center, the Worthington and Westerville School Districts, libraries and historical societies, and local non-profit Erase the Space to create and pilot a framework for the investigation of local history, or local truth-seeking. Additionally, my colleague Mikyung Baek and I are wrapping up a study on older African American vulnerability for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in which we conducted focus group with older African American Ohioans.

Why is engaging the community important to you and your work?

I want to answer questions that are relevant to society and conduct research that can solve real-world problems. As an academic, I think I live in a bit of a bubble. Engaging community reminds me that Ohio State's campus or Columbus, Ohio is not the world. Engaging community helps me see problems that I otherwise would have been blind to. Engaging community helps me realize other ways to apply knowledge to make an impact. Engaging community helps broaden my world view. Engaging community opens my mind to perspectives and issues I would otherwise not be exposed to. Engaging community gives me the opportunity to meet people I otherwise would not meet and has led to many lasting friendships. Engaging community teaches me so much. Every. Single. Time. Engaging community is, quite frankly, fun!

What lessons have you learned from the community that have helped you as a university staff member?

Humility. A PhD might be an official signal that one possesses expertise, but that expertise is in reality quite narrow and targeted to a specific discipline and topic and cannot ever replace lived experience. The community has taught me to value different types of expertise, especially the kind that doesn't come with a degree.

What has been your favorite moment from your community-engagement work?

In true rebel fashion, I am not answering this question. I am instead going to tell you about the engaged research that most impacted me.

I have worked on three studies in my time at the Kirwan Institute focused on older adult vulnerability. In these studies, we conducted focus groups and/or interviews with older adults. These conversations and the research conducted in these studies have by far been the most impactful engagement and research activities of my career. As somebody who is not a gerontologist nor a social worker, engaging older adults around issues of inequality and vulnerability was a new experience for me. But through the conversations I had with these elders and the research we conducted, my entire outlook on life has changed.

I have changed the way I talk to my parents and the other elders in my family. I now want to age in a ranch so that I have a better chance of aging in place. I no longer use the term "senior." I am much more cognizant of who is around me and much more likely to strike up a conversation with an elder. The way I think about my parents and my relationship with them has even changed. My goal is always to influence policy, and through these studies, we accomplished that goal. But these studies also change me. They transformed my outlook on life and aging in such a positive way. This is one of the powers of engaged research we don't focus on enough, how it impacts us, the researchers.

What advice do you have for other staff members who are interested in getting involved in community engagement?

Successful collaboration is born out of existing relationships and requires a strong foundation of trust. Building relationships and trust takes time, time that academics are rarely, if ever, rewarded for. But that investment is completely worth it if your objective is to conduct impactful research, and you may even walk away with a few new friends in the process.