One of the “Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, and Environmental Equity (RISE)” initiative’s first endeavors is to partner with the White House on ongoing research projects.

On March 7, Boston College School of Social Work professors Tiziana Dearing and David Takeuchi went to the White House for the launch of the Obama Administration’s new program, Expanding Opportunity with Open Data on Building Stronger Ladders of Opportunity: A White House Demo. Dearing and Takeuchi met with members of the president’s Office of Science and Technology Partnerships, representing the leadership of a new and exciting initiative at BCSSW called Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, and Environmental Equity (RISE). RISE will serve as initial academic research partner with the White House on the aforementioned project.

David Takeuchi and Tiziana Dearing representing BC Social Work initiative RISE at The White House, March 7, 2016.

David Takeuchi and Tiziana Dearing representing BC Social Work initiative RISE at The White House, March 7, 2016.

So just what is RISE? In short, RISE’s mission is to “reframe challenges and resolve problems around social, economic, and environmental equity in ways that impact local outcomes while generating knowledge and policy ideas of national and global significance.” The initiative hopes to attract researchers from across disciplines, while also engaging those experiencing social, economic and environmental justice at every stage of the work. (In addition to Dearing and Takeuchi, Professor Ruth McRoy is the third member of the RISE leadership team).

In this Q&A with BC Social Work, The RISE team provides more depth about just what RISE is, discussing the impetus for building the program, its potential impact in addressing social ills from a race, place, and poverty-based framework, and their hopes for RISE today and into the future.

Why RISE, right now? 

The RISE Team: We believe that race, poverty, place, and equity pose unique contemporary opportunities that call for a refocus on a fundamental facet of social justice: dignity for all individuals. This ethic can create a common framework for dialogue and exchanges across different sides of the political and ideological spectrum that advance social change.

We are pursuing this initiative at a particularly significant moment. Pope Francis is leading groundbreaking conversations about poverty and equity. He is creating both room for these social issues to rise in importance and attention as well as a market for thought leadership and knowledge. In these moments, those who can conduct deep, quality research and articulate it in ways consumable to practitioners, policymakers, voters and concerned citizens fulfill a great need, and have an opportunity to change the course of events. It is unclear how long this window will be open but it is prudent to act soon.

Why is BC Social Work well equipped to “fulfill the great need” you mention?  

RISE: The RISE concept is perfectly suited to Boston College and the School of Social Work. Boston College is a Jesuit, Catholic institution situated – both geographically and with its networks – close to Boston neighborhoods in which the combination of race, place, and poverty disproportionately drive poor outcomes for children and families.

Greater Boston is a leader in equity-based work, with a number of organizations known nationally as social innovators, such as United Teen Equality Center and InnerCity Weightlifting. The School of Social Work has connections to these organizations and others through research, student placements, mentoring relationships, and more. And the university on the whole is home to scholars across a broad range of schools and departments who lead their fields and who are poised to engage with each other and the broader world for true impact.

Ruth McRoy

Ruth McRoy

The original RISE idea was born out of Ruth’s commitment to do deep work with Boston organizations. This commitment is critically important, we believe, to our vision of what BC Social Work is, and can be.

Tell us more about the realities of race, place, and poverty, and how they come to intersect. Why is this intersection so critical for the social work community to understand, and act upon?

RISE: Consider the City of Boston itself. According to The Boston Foundation, the three lowest-income neighborhoods in Boston also have the highest levels of unemployment and violent crime, the lowest levels of social trust, and the highest concentrations of African Americans. Research from scholars like Raj Chetty and Bruce Western consistently shows that place, perceptions of race and income all affect opportunities and outcomes. Sometimes, when those factors combine, they create an extra level of impact – compounding challenges or downward pressure on outcomes. This has tremendous implications for public policy at the local, state and national levels.  Social work is fundamentally and inherently about equity, about social justice.  If this isn’t our concern, then whose should it be?

What kinds of projects do you envisage RISE taking on?  

RISE: RISE wants to find projects that reframe challenges, and that resolve problems around social, economic and environmental equity in ways that impact local outcomes while generating knowledge and policy ideas of national and global significance.  That means work that’s always rooted in needs of real agencies serving real people.  It also means translating that work into recommendations used by regional, national and international practitioners, policy makers and influencers.

What are your hopes for rise, as it launches, and then, into the future?  

RISE: I hope our work ultimately supports opportunity for people experiencing social, economic and environmental inequity. I hope it helps convince a broader group of people that the intersection of race, place and poverty is a real thing that really matters.  I hope it raises questions of environmental justice that help round out our climate change debate.  I hope we at RISE and BC Social Work are of service. That should always be the goal, right?

What does this collaboration with the White House mean to RISE? Why is RISE the right partner for this particular project?

RISE: The White House is doing this work on open data regarding equality of opportunity because they value transparency, resident empowerment, and the idea of opportunity for all.  So do we. They are offering data and tools that residents can use, communities can use, and researchers can use.  RISE has research frameworks, hypotheses and analytic capacity specifically ready to take advantage of the opportunity that OSTP has created here. We’re a natural first research volunteer to share in their vision.  As such, our goals are a) to help connect resident-focused organizations to the initiative in order to advance resident-driven approaches to its use and development; b) to create products with the data that can advance ours and others’ research; and c) to offer reports and insights on how access, opportunity and outcomes affect each other in American cities.