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Research in Focus: Urban Issues

At SLU, we believe that St. Louis thrives when all of its community members have opportunities for health, education, housing, and employment. SLU researchers are engaging with community partners to seek a more just and equitable St. Louis for all. 

 Three researchers and the Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement describe the role of community service and collaboration, as well as SLU’s Jesuit Mission, in research for and with the St. Louis community.

Research at Saint Louis University is not limited to labs and classrooms. SLU’s mission places an important emphasis on service and social justice, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community, empowering researchers to take their work out of the lab and into the St. Louis community.

“We as a university, I as an individual, have a responsibility to keep for people who live in this space and whose lives are affected,” said Jonathan Smith, Ph.D, Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement. “The thing that gives me joy in the midst of all that is to be at a place like Saint Louis University, where that mission—social, educational, intellectual, spiritual—all of that is on the play, that impels me every day.”

Research For and With Others

“In the traditional sort of research practices, we conduct research and publish and that’s all,” said Takako Nomi, Ph.D., associate professor of education at SLU. “That’s not the model that we need if you want research to make improvements.”

Nomi’s own research focuses on college and career readiness in high school students. After noticing that many students who failed algebra in eighth or ninth grade did not graduate from high school, Nomi’s team examined ways in which schools organize instructions, taking note of which models were more successful. Nomi has also worked with St. Louis public schools to address college readiness. 

“We have this indicator called the On-Track indicator for whether students graduate from high school or not,” Nomi described. With the use of this indicator, schools can predict which students might need additional support. Nomi hopes that the use of tools such as this will help schools and districts to create support mechanisms for students at risk. 

What really makes her research successful, Nomi says, are the relationships that the School of Education has developed with schools and with the St. Louis community. In addition to Nomi’s work, the School of Education is home to the PRiME Center, an independent, nonpartisan research center specializing in generating, collecting and disseminating education policy research. The PriME Center is focused on improving outcomes for Missouri students and schools, and the Center partners with schools throughout the state to assist with evaluation of educational programs.

Trust in the Community

SLU researchers such as Nomi cultivate meaningful connections with the organizations and communities while working in the St. Louis region.

“They generally trust SLU,” Nomi said. “And that’s really key for something like this to take place.”

Kira Banks, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, is another researcher working for and with the St. Louis community. Banks studies the impacts of discrimination on mental health and has previously done work with the Ferguson Commission, an independent group appointed by Governor Jay Nixon in 2014 for the purpose of examining the social conditions in the St. Louis region after the events in Ferguson.

“SLU wants to be part of the solution,” Banks said. “As an institution, we want to partner with the community, and we realize that we don’t have the answers. We might have tools and methodologies and resources that can help to support their work, to evaluate it, to scale it up, but it’s gonna require us all working together.”

Collaborative Research

Research at Saint Louis University brings together experts from a variety of disciplines.

“What I enjoy doing is trying to bring together those who are far afield, who do fine and performing arts, communication, who do social science, who do healthcare, to think about new ways to solve problems,” Smith said.

In keeping with this, Banks, Ruqaiijah Yearby, J.D., M.P.H, professor of law, Keon Gilbert, DrPH, professor of behavioral science and health education, and Amber Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of communication, founded the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, an interdisciplinary initiative to bolster the curation of knowledge and research as it relates to healing as a result of social injustice. 

“SLU is really looking to create Institute initiatives where we’ll be working within the community, getting the communities ownership and funding so that they can be sustainable and thriving,” said Yearby, who is executive director of the Institute. 

The Institute for Healing Justice and Equity 

The Institute for Healing Justice and Equity employs a community-based approach to its work. The Institute devotes time and hard work to several key areas of focus, including equity in policy, healing justice and community research ethics.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact on Black Americans and other people of color, the Institute launched “The Color of COVID” in April 2020. This webinar series brought together researchers, scholars, activists, health care practitioners and community leaders to examine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black Americans. All of the installments of the series can be viewed on the Institute's website.

About the Faculty

Learn more about the researchers featured in this video and article. 

Kira Banks, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Psychology
Co-Founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity


Banks’ research focuses primarily on mental health as it relates to discrimination and the African American experience. Banks' work is an exploration of discrimination and racial identity. She has served the St. Louis Community through her work with the Ferguson Commission and continues to do so as the Racial Equity Catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson, a 501(c)3 focusing on pursuing racial equity in St.


Keon Gilbert, DrPH

 


Amber Johnson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Communication
Co-Founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity


Johnson’s research interests span a variety of topics including humanizing equity, arts activism, popular culture, and identity negotiation, among others. Their unique perspective of popular media and its relationship with social justice, race, and gender and sexuality can be found in a variety of publications. 


Takako Nomi, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education

Nomi’s research interests include a variety of topics centered around urban education and post-high school outcomes. 


Jonathan Smith, Ph.D.

Vice President of Diversity and Community Engagement

As Vice President of DIversity and Community and Engagement, Smith is an advocate for on-campus diversity and cultural awareness and respect. He has worked at SLU since 2002, beginning his career as a billiken as a professor and community liaison in the African American Studies Program.


Ruqaiijah Yearby, J.D., M.P.H.

Professor, Law
Co-Founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity


With a background in biology, Yearby’s research and practice largely focuses on racial disparities in health care and the accessibility of health care to vulnerable populations. Currently, she is a Research Consultant and Board member for the Investigation Conceptions of Health Equity and Barriers to Making Health a Shared Value, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant.