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PhD Highlight | COVID Mutual Aid

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Elijah is a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Policy and is concentrating on Urban and Regional Studies. Elijah recently completed his MPA at Florida State University where his studies focused on civic engagement, community policing, and police reform.

What sparked your interest in the particular direction of your study?
As someone who has spent grueling and gratifying days community organizing, I found the rapid proliferation of mutual aid groups stunning. Though spurred by horrendous crises, the networks of neighbors coming together to sustain their lives and well-being was inspiring to witness. I have wanted to see communities strengthen their ties and build their own power to sustain themselves and effect change for years, so this was a topic I was naturally interested in exploring.

What sorts of adaptation, if any, have you had to make to conduct research during a pandemic?
I had to rely greatly on web-based resources. This was not devastating as the mutual aid groups used tools like google docs to interface with their members and provide a bevy of resources. However, I would have loved to have been able to safely perform in-person field work and interview people outside of Zoom meetings.

Have any of your findings surprised you? How?
In a way, I found the rich history that I learned of African-American mutual aid to be a fascinating surprise. It makes sense upon reflection, African-Americans coming out of slavery had almost no one to rely on besides themselves. Yet, it is just one more example of triumphant African-American history that U.S schools fail to teach young students.

How could your study help influence policy change?
I think my study looks directly at how community power can be structured and sustained, which I would consider an important pre-cursor to achieving policy change from the levers of government.

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