Engaged Scholars is a series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching.
Jeffrey H. Cohen
College of Arts and Sciences/Anthropology
Project Panchavati was developed with the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio (BCCO) and includes the Ohio State Department of Anthropology, College of Social Work as well as faculty at Denison University and the National Institutes of Health. Our project, founded during the Covid-19 pandemic, was designed to address the impacts of the digital divide on the community, how we might support the community to better understand and plan for these challenges, and, finally, how best to respond. We worked with the BCCO to design an online survey for community members with digital access. To understand the digital divide, we needed to access people who lacked access. Again, working with the community, we trained fieldworkers (Bhutanese students at Ohio State as well as several recent graduates) to survey community members who lacked access. Out growths from our work have included ongoing efforts with the BCCO to develop a sound laboratory for the community's self-documentation, mentoring for younger Bhutanese and the design of programs to support the flow of information to community members.
Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?
Community engagement shifts research toward a model that is founded upon co-design, co-production, shared respect and transparency. Working with the BCCO as partners and investing our efforts together to promote equity and justice is an opportunity to reinvent anthropology and anthropological research for today.
What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?
The opportunity to work with the BCCO was the confluence of several things. The pandemic had halted research, but also created an opportunity to take a chance at something new. Additionally, anthropology and anthropologists were reckoning with our field's colonial history and the fact that much of our work was not engaged. Talking with the leadership of the BCCO as well as other colleagues was important, we developed our idea to explore the digital-divide and how it might be mitigated, not only because it was an opportunity to work with a community (and not just study a community) but also to push anthropology to become something new and special. The process has not always been easy and sometimes the pathways to engagement included figuring out how to get past disagreements, but this has been a very satisfying journey that continues.
How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?
Too often, academic work exists in a bubble. Working with the BCCO is an opportunity to share research and together create a better framework for ethnography, data analysis and application than anything that could have happened alone. Engaged research is often thought to be "less" than academic research (some people might argue the academic work is pure in place of the applied work we can do). Nothing could be further from the truth, working with the BCCO opens so many opportunities that I cannot imagine not doing it.
What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?
The highlight is getting to know members of the BCCO and to work together as equals as we build toward a more just future.
What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?
To borrow from Nike, just do it. I know that a lot of the research that most anthropologists do has a rich engaged piece. Anthropologists have for generations celebrated the connections we share with the people we study. Now is a time to celebrate that connection as more than simply a framework for study as we team with communities to reinvent our field
Sample Engaged Scholarship
In addition to sharing how the conduct of this project creates a framework for investigations in anthropology - this is important for my course ANTHROP5650 (Research Design and Ethnographic Methods) among others, our team has presented our work regularly:
Engaged Scholarship Symposium, April 2022, Ohio State.
Quantitative Methodology Center 2022 (QMC22) Conference, Community-engaged research and the digital divide: A Mixed-Method Approach to Covid-19 in Columbus' Bhutanese community, with A. Maleku, S. Raut, S. Pyarkurel, F.A. Montiel-Ishino and T. Suzuki, May 2022.
Assessing Profiles of Cardiometabolic Risk Among South Asians Living in the United States using a Syndemic Framework and Acculturation. Francisco A. Montiel Ishino, K.M. Canenguez, J.H. Cohen, B. Needham, N. Kandula, F. Williams, A. Shields, A.M. Kanaya. EPI, Lifestyle 2021 Scientific Sessions.
We have been interviewed:
Digital gap in refugee community lingers through pandemic, Spectrum News, Tonisha Johnson, January 2023.
Why technology alone cant solve the digital divide: Study of a refugee community shows impact of other factors, Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State News, January 2023.
And we have published on our work:
Exploring the digital divide among the Bhutanese Refugee Community during COVID-19: Engaged Research in Action. Jeffrey H. Cohen, Arati Maleku, Sudarshan Pyakurel, Taku Suzuki, Shambika Raut and Francisco Alejandro Montiel Ishino. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022, 19, 24, 16854.