Lessons learnt: Reflections on the ‘insider-outsider divide’ in working with culturally and linguistically diverse students in a participatory action research project
journal contributionposted on 20.06.2022, 03:39 authored by Jenny McDougallJenny McDougall, Caroline Henderson-BrooksCaroline Henderson-Brooks
This paper explores the challenges and possibilities in research that involves students from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, a group that tends to be overlooked in university settings and in the literature. We present a reflexive account of our experiences as researchers in a Participatory Action Research (PAR) study that explored the needs of CALD students from an enabling (access) program in a regional Australian university. PAR was chosen as a research method out of our desire to give these students a voice and to help break down any potential barriers because of our positioning as researchers. We draw on the concept of ‘researcher as insider-outsider’ (Merriam, 2016) to highlight these aspects in our analysis of the research process. Some of our democratic objectives were achieved, but we also found there were limitations. Our position as Caucasian, Australian-born English speakers meant that we remained ‘outsiders’ to the CALD experience in fundamental ways. Further, our ‘insider’ status as researchers and lecturers was difficult to ignore, and institutional expectations created additional barriers. Some aspects of our data collection had unintended negative consequences, thus necessitating a change of course. On the plus side, however, consulting with students at each stage of the research helped to create more equal, trusting relationships and fostered empathetic understandings. The continual cycle of reflection and action assisted in ensuring we were responsive to the needs of participants. Although there are no guarantees, our experiences suggest that collaborative methods can assist in blurring the researcher-researched divide and give vulnerable communities greater agency in research. Despite the complexities and risks, exploring the needs of CALD students remains a worthwhile research endeavour. Any attempts to achieve equitable outcomes should highlight the capacity and potential of these students and not just their vulnerabilities.