Inaugural GJE Conference Promotes Community-Engaged Research

Conference explores the power of community engagement in shaping a fairer and more inclusive future.

-By Charles Givens

November 9, 2023

The inaugural Global Justice and Equity (GJE) Conference, hosted by Duke University’s Global Justice and Equity Fellows on Friday, November 3, 2023, convened local practitioners and Duke-based researchers to explore community-engaged research, a collaborative approach to scholarship that centers community voices and experiences. The free and open-to-the-public conference featured panels on multidisciplinary understandings of equity and justice, best practices for community-based research and a case study of a Duke student-run initiative that addressed food insecurity in Durham’s Hispanic/Latinx community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kerilyn Schewel, Faculty Director of the GJE Fellowship, welcomed attendees and set the stage for a day of stimulating discussions and outcomes. The opening conversation featured Schewel in dialogue with Kay Jowers and Ed Balleisen, distinguished scholars and practitioners of community-engaged research at Duke. Jowers, Director for Just Environments at the Duke Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, offered her perspective on environmental equity, ethics and justice. Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, shared his expertise in regulatory governance and its historical context.

Attendees of the GJE Conference listen to panelists give their perspectives on community engagement.
Attendees of the GJE Conference listen to panelists give their perspectives on community engagement. (Photo credit: Chuck Givens)

“Community-engaged research is an approach to knowledge generation the seeks to advance more just and equitable research practices,” said Schewel. “It strives to redress power hierarchies favoring the researcher’s needs over community needs and recognizes that research is enriched by the local knowledge that comes with sustained and substantive community engagement.”

The interdisciplinary panel discussion “Multidisciplinary Understandings of Equity and Justice” highlighted the diverse ways in which justice and equity are conceptualized and studied across different academic disciplines. Panelists Eileen Chow (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies), Mark Olson (Art, Art History and Visual Studies), Grant Murray (Marine Policy) and Aunchalee Palmquist (Global Health) engaged in a lively conversation moderated by GJE Fellows SaeHim Park and Robin Fail.


The afternoon panel “Centering Justice and Equity: Best Practices for Implementing Community-Based Research” emphasized the importance of community participation in research and discussed best practices for fostering equitable partnerships. Panelists Nina Smith (Human Sciences), Ruth Wygle (Sociology), Mina Silberberg (Global Health) and Charles Muiruri (Population Health Sciences and Global Health) shared their expertise, moderated by GJE Fellows Adrienne Jones and Reshma Nargund.

“The conference was a great opportunity to engage with faculty and staff from diverse disciplines and backgrounds and think about both the tools and values we share and the ways that we differ,” said Fail. “The chance to collaborate with folks outside of my discipline was welcome and I hope the beginning of many more collaborations to come.”

The final panel, “A Collaborative Approach to Addressing Food Insecurity in Durham’s Hispanic/LatinX Community in the Age of Covid,” explored the case study of the Root Causes Fresh Produce Program, a Duke student-run initiative that expanded to address food insecurity during the pandemic. Panelists Elaijah Lapay, Scott “Esko” Brummel, Saskia Cornes and Rubi Morales highlighted the importance of community involvement and partnerships. The discussion was moderated by GJE Fellows Elizabeth Brown and Miguel Martinez.

The 2023 Global Justice and Equity Conference showcased how Duke researchers and practitioners can engage with community for better outcomes. By starting with an understanding and appreciation for this kind of approach, moving to a discussion about different definitions and understandings of equity and justice, and then ending with a case-study that embodied community-based equity work, the conference gave a full picture of how best to engage in this space.