By: Dr. Michael Dao
The San José State University Human Rights Institute (SJSU HRI) is a university “organizational research and training unit” under the California State University system that specifically focuses on human rights research, journalism, and policy design. The SJSU HRI studies pressing social problems and works with community-based organizations, stakeholders and policymakers to inform and enact progressive social change. In Spring 2021, I was awarded the inaugural SJSU HRI Summer Faculty Research Grant. The grant provided me the opportunity to work on a cross-campus, multi and interdisciplinary research team. As a tenure-track faculty member, joining the SJSU HRI as a working group member is the epitome of scholarship and service to the San José community and broader Silicon Valley that this university aspires to.
With that in mind, during the Summer and continuing into the Fall semester, I have been working on the People’s Budget of San José (PBSJ) research project. The PBSJ project was inspired by persistent public protests and testimony in San José coming at a time that reflected the global Black Lives Matter movement following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more by police. For the PBSJ Project, the SJSU HRI, in partnership with Sacred Heart Community Services (SHCS) and members of the REAL Coalition, designed a mixed-method study to determine the interests, needs, and perspectives of community members concerning public spending for the provision of “public safety” or “community safety.” Considering the ongoing discussion of police reform and public safety, the findings of the PBSJ project will inform the new “Re-imagining Public Safety and Community Advisory Committee,” a committee tasked to re-envision criminal justice and police reform in San José.
Working alongside Dr. Miranda Worthen (Public Health and Recreation), Dr. Soma de Bourbon (Sociology and Interdisciplinary Studies), Professor Melissa McClure Fuller (Public Health and Recreation), and Dr. William Armaline (Sociology and Interdisciplinary Studies), we spent the summer analyzing focus group data collected by the HRI and SHCS to determine how communities in San José perceived and experienced community safety. As a team with different academic backgrounds, we worked all summer, having intense discussions about what the data meant. These conversations were important as we wanted to represent the communities honestly and respectfully. I must say, these discussions were invigorating as we learned from each other and all brought our own disciplines to the forefront. Ultimately, we developed an analysis and wrote a report that spoke to the participants’ ideals of community safety and policing. In the spirit of collaboration and promoting cross-campus connections, the PBSJ project certainly provided space for critical and thoughtful discussion.
At this time, we are still soliciting participants for the survey portion of the study. For those reading this, please consider taking the PBSJ survey to contextualize better the re-imagining of public safety in San José. And for those wanting to expand their SJSU community, please consider joining the SJSU HRI. It is worthwhile to think about how your research and service can align with human rights and address systemic societal issues.