Addressing COVID-19 Health and Educational Disparities in Champaign and Urbana using Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Engagement


Champaign-Urbana Publich Health District logo

Academic mentors: Prof. Melissa Goodnight and Prof. Cherie Avent 

Community partner: Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department (CUPHD) 

Community-Academic Scholar: Royal Shrestha

Project description:
Educational achievement and attainment gaps for students of color in the United States have been pervasive concerns for decades, and system-level factors including public health crises are major contributors to these gaps. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African American communities is not unique: ethnic and racial disparities in health outcomes are longstanding issues that stem from the compounding effects of racism across multiple dimensions of people’s lives.

In Champaign and Urbana, African American community leaders have shared that challenges to accessing COVID-19 testing and health services include current and accurate information, transportation, time, and importantly, trust in the health care system. The state and university’s commitment to addressing COVID-19 inequities creates both an opportunity and mandate for Illinois researchers to engage the local community to try to better address structural barriers to health care.

This project addresses COVID-19 racial health disparities in Champaign and Urbana in African American faith-based communities and explores its impact on wellbeing and education. Our research team (Drs. Cherie Avent, Melissa Goodnight, Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, and Emily Stone, MPH), approach this work from a culturally sustaining and culturally responsive framework for research and evaluation. We will facilitate data collection through engagement with local African American churches organizing around COVID-19 prevention.

Our community-engaged research project explores the following questions:

  1. What needs, barriers, and strengths do African American residents identify as crucial to their well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic and following it?
  2. According to residents, how have African American youth—their physical health, well-being, and learning—been impacted by the pandemic?
  3. How do issues of trust, respect, and mutual understanding impact stakeholder relationships central to improving the immediate and long-term well-being of African American residents?
  4. What solutions or possibilities do residents identify as able to improve the well-being of their community and youth?

Role of the Community-Academic Scholar:
Our research focuses on conversations with African American congregants via semi-structured one-on-one interviews to understand the impact of COVID-19 on their health, well-being and children’s learning, along with their concerns and past experiences with health care. We envision the Community-Academic Scholar assisting us with literature review, interviews, data analysis and reporting/writing. For example, the scholar may work with our faculty research team to draft a semi-structured interview protocol and help conduct interviews (by both asking questions and note-taking). The research interviews collect data on the following topics: 1) the churches’ and community’s history with regard to trust and relationships around public health issues (with other key stakeholders like the university and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District), 2) needs and assets assessment around COVID-19, and 3) community youth’s well-being and learning during COVID-19.

As a key part of the research team, the Community-Academic Scholar not only gains hands-on experience but also has the opportunity to learn about conducting research in ways that privilege the perspectives of community members due to our culturally relevant and sustaining approach.