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University of Cincinnati law professor gives victims a voice through participatory action research course

Dr. Kristin Kalsem, law professor

When law becomes abstract, it can be easy to lose sight of the reality victims face. Elected officials, lawmakers, and sometimes scholars can forget that what they’re researching and trying to change affects more than just the legal system. It affects people, too.

Kristin Kalsem, Charles Hartsock Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati, aims to help and work with those struck by real-life tragic events and understands that there is more to a story than the system behind it.

This summer Kalsem brought her knowledge and expertise to the University of Durham in Durham, England to teach a course on Participatory Action Research (PAR) to graduate students and community activists. Kalsem brings expertise in legal PAR to this course.  This was the third time she visited England to share her research.

And Kalsem’s approach to research is somewhat atypical.

Legal PAR is community-based research which offers tools and methodologies for working within a community. Those involved in this research range from scholars to victims, from first responders to advocates, and even judges and magistrates.

Kalsem explains that PAR is “much more common in the education or health fields” and that she and her colleagues hope to introduce legal scholars to this kind of research. In connection with her current legal PAR project, over 375 judges have been trained on best practices in domestic violence cases.

During her course this summer, Kalsem and four other professors instructed a class of 40. The students were either doctoral candidates or activists hoping to make a change in their community. The participants were selected from a talented pool of over 120 applicants, and this is the fourth year it has been offered at the university.

Hosted by the Center for Social Justice and Community Action at the University of Durham, the course focused on methods and ethics, and most importantly, how to effectively and ethically work in the community.

Students brought their own projects to the course and met in small groups to discuss their experiences using the tools and methods discussed.  Examples of some of these projects included: integrating immigrants into a rural community, organizing a theater group comprised of people with disabilities, and working with trauma-informed care at an outpatient facility.

Kalsem explains that PAR “bridges the theoretical and practical, and that it fits well with critical race feminist scholarship.” Co-researching and collaborating may become the future of research as she and her colleagues demonstrate the benefits of speaking to and working with those directly involved.

Kalsem is already planning to return to Durham next summer to teach the course for a third year.


Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice Domestic Violence Summit Conference

The Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice is hosting a Domestic Violence Summit to bring together groups of stakeholders in Hamilton County to improve systemwide communication and collaboration.

The summit will be held at 8 a.m., Friday, Oct. 26, at the College of Law. The principles of legal PAR inform the design of the Summit. October is domestic violence awareness month, and Kalsem, a co-director of the Center, is hopeful these conversations will generate ideas for community-based solutions to the serious public health issue of interpersonal violence.