“Engaged scholarship, as I conceptualize it, takes time and dedication. It is about building relationships and confianza (trust) with community members. It is about working in solidarity alongside community embers. It is about co-constructing knowledge with communities. It is about viewing scholarship as an act of resistance,” describes Dr. Erica Fernández on the challenge of using scholarship as a form of engagement. A challenge, that Dr. Fernández demonstrates a strong commitment to—promoting school justice and equity through her research.
One of her current research projects, in collaboration with Dr. Michele Femc-Bagwell, employs photovoice to understand the parental engagement experiences of Parents of Color, specifically undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, in urban schools in Connecticut. Photovoice is a qualitative research method in which community participants use pictures to identify and represent issues that are important to them. Dr. Fernández and Dr. Femc-Bagwell provided access to cameras for the parents in the study to capture visual representations of how they conceptualize acts of parental engagement in their kids’ schools. The research is currently established in two urban schools in the state with plans to expand. They are also planning on integrating teacher and administrator perceptions of parental engagement to form a comprehensive narrative analysis.
Dr. Fernández’s work goes beyond the traditional role of a researcher as she engages and works alongside Parents of Color. She does not just “study” Parents of Color, she works directly with them to make research decisions including design, analysis and the presentation of findings. Through this process, she is able to give study participants a role in the co-construction of knowledge and a voice in the issues directly affecting them.
“By centering the schooling engagement experiences of People and Communities of Color, I provide counternarratives that disrupt and refute harmful deficit ideologies that perpetuate inequities in and around schools.”
– Dr. Fernández on her goals of fighting systematic oppression and furthering educational equity through research
This work is particularly meaningful for Dr. Fernández as her parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. This personal connection to her work has served as a source of motivation and inspiration, driving her to empower and broaden opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinx immigrant parents through her research. However, her motivation for this area of research is not only because it is familiar, but also because the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrant parents are historically underreported in academic literature. By amplifying their narratives, she is able to humanize their existence and advocate on their behalf – demonstrating a steadfast commitment to social justice in the face of current anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
Over the past eight years, Dr. Fernández has added to larger conversations surrounding educational equity, presenting her work at conferences such as the University Council of Educational Administrators (UCEA), the American Education Research Association (AERA), and the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) conference. However, with her current research, she is taking engagement to the next level as she presented alongside some of the undocumented Latinx parents that she has worked with at a national conference. By engaging with Parents of Color, she is able to leverage resources to parents, giving them a channel in which to tell their story and influence policymakers. Community-engaged research is not only disrupting traditional notions of scholarship, its authenticity is inspirational. The Department of Educational Leadership is incredibly grateful to have faculty like Dr. Fernández, who show an immense passion and dedication to their work and the communities that their work serves.