On the edges of the Van Pelt Collaborative Classroom, located just down the hall from the Weigle Information Commons, an exhibit about the edges of Penn’s presence in West Philadelphia runs until Friday, February 24, 2017. Penn and the Surrounding Community is a collection of work by Dr. Rosemary Frasso‘s students from the SW781/PUBH604 class entitled Qualitative Research in Social Work and Public Health. This semester’s exhibit focuses on how undergraduate and graduate students here at Penn conceptualize the University’s impact on its urban setting.
Nominal Group Technique (NGT) (in which members of a group name, then rank items) was used to determine the topic of exploration for the class research study. Briefly, Dr. Frasso moderated a session where in the students suggested potential topic ideas, then ranked those ideas. The topic of Penn and the Surrounding Community was collectively chosen as the central theme for investigation.
First, the students collected free-listing data. Each of the 25 students in the class recruited 5 participants (total of 125 people) from the Penn community and asked them to share the words that come to mind when they think about Penn’s relationship with the surrounding community. These data (words generated) were then analyzed to determine the salient domains.
Then each student recruited one additional participant to take part in the Photo-elicitation arm of the study. Briefly, each participant was asked to think about Penn’s relationship with the surrounding community and using their camera or smartphone to take photos that would help them explain their impression of this relationship. The photos were then used to guide a qualitative interview. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and analyzed in the Collaborative Classroom.
The preliminary analysis yielded 10 thematic categories: Benefits, Safety, Permeability, Double-Edged Sword, Accessibility, Responsibility, Exclusivity, Bubble, Boundary, and Penntrification. Within these broad categorizations, representative photos and their accompanying captions were chosen for exhibition. The finished product will ultimately include an abstract for presentation as well as a manuscript for publication in addition to these preliminary findings currently on exhibit. The project can be viewed on the Scholarly Commons’ New Media Showcase.
The photos and quotes paint a complicated picture of how students perceive Penn’s relationship with the West Philadelphia community. The work highlights both the beneficial nature and drawbacks that are byproducts of Penn’s presence in West Philly, best described as a “double-edged sword.” For thought provoking insights like these, the exhibit is an enlightening and self-reflective project that is well worth the visit. Research rigor and critical social immersion blend to demonstrate the strengths of research in Public Health and Social Work.