Tackling Community Violence through Trans-disciplinary Research at Voices Against Violence

I’m Darrelstan Ferguson, a third-year PhD student of Hispanic Languages and Literatures. My research interests include race, gender and sexuality in Hispanic literatures, and more specifically in Afro-Cuban theatre. This is my second immersive fellowship with Humanities Engage. Last year’s experience was so rich and wholesome in terms of my professional and personal growth that I felt compelled to open myself up to the same possibility again this year.

I am working with Voices Against Violence (VAV), a Pittsburgh-based organisation that, as their website states, “aims to empower youth and reduce interpersonal conflict among members of underserved communities in South Pittsburgh.” As a Research Assistant, I am tasked with conducting on-site and academic research that may help improve the rehabilitation strategies used by the organisation during its summer camps for at-risk youth. I undertake research on gun violence data in the neighbourhoods that VAV serves as well as conduct interviews among past campers about their camp experience. I also research the benefits of the creative arts for the rehabilitation process of our campers. I am using my background in race and theatre studies to suggest how campers may use play performances as an outlet for personal and community identity issues.

I came to the organisation with a strong background in qualitative research. I have had to assert these skills by sieving through articles online that speak to the impact of gun violence on youth as well as formulating reports on the effectiveness of the creative arts in treating troubled youth. I have also had to conduct on-site interviews, which reminds me of my time in Cuba interviewing one playwright for my master’s thesis, and also the times I have had to read multiple interviews of the playwrights I study in order to collate information on their personal ideologies. It has been a great opportunity to refine the ways in which I navigate research databases, formulate questions so as to receive specific answers, and analyse responses from interviews so as to ascertain both broad and pointed information that help determine the short- and long-term effectiveness of the summer camps. The job also demands some amount of quantitative research, a field in which I have little experience, but I am learning how to adapt when pushed outside of my comfort zone. I value the opportunity to reach beyond the humanities and into the social sciences as needs be.

No doubt, working at VAV will help me to become a more rounded researcher and professional. As I continue to conduct research and interviews, I am constantly reminded of how important it is to be critical of the ways in which we serve our clients not just through verbal reflections but also empirical research, to come up with innovative ways of serving our clients through research-based strategies, and to involve our clients/research subjects in a collaborative rather than hierarchical way. As the immersive experience progresses, I see more and more how mutually beneficial it is to cross disciplines to achieve professional goals and to mix the social sciences with the humanities rather than treat them as incompatible opposites. I am excited for career opportunities in the near future that allow me to use my background in language, race, gender and sexuality studies to advance community projects that are lacking a humanistic perspective.

Darrelstan Ferguson
Hispanic Languages and Literatures
July 2021

Learn about all the Pitch Your Own Summer Immersive Fellows and Curated Immersive Summer Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.