Department of Communication graduate students in Dr. Heather Zoller’s Qualitative and Rhetorical Methods class (COMM 7042) partnered with the Cancer Justice Network for an applied class project. As a result, students gained hands-on experience in conducting qualitative research, and the community partner will gain valuable insights about their Community Navigator model.

The Cancer Justice Network seeks to reduce racial and income disparities in cancer deaths in the Greater Cincinnati area. The network recruits physicians and other medical professionals to educate community members about cancer and the need for cancer screening. The twist – drawn from the innovative work of Dr. Harold Freeman – is that the Cancer Justice Network will recruit and train community health navigators to encourage community members to get tested, and help them navigate the often confusing world of medical centers and health insurance coverage. Navigators will also help community members who test positive for cancer to handle the emotional strains of a diagnosis, make decisions about the best treatment options, and access care. Former UC Professor Dr. Steve Sunderland is spearheading this effort.

Sunderland reached out to UC’s Department of Communication and The Cincinnati Project as a part of his work to organize the Network. The Department of Communication has several projects planned with the initiative. COMM 7042 students will kick off this partnership by using ethnographic observation and interviewing to investigate how navigators communicate with clients. Sunderland would like to know what is working in terms of navigators encouraging clients to seek cancer screenings. Graduate students will also investigate why navigators are motivated to volunteer and learn about navigator perceptions of training and client meetings.

The research culminated in a report to the Cancer Justice Network and course papers on emergent topics of student interest. The experience was excellent preparation for our MA students, whether they go on for doctoral studies or professional work. The Cancer Justice Network gained insights into the Navigation process from the lived experience of Navigators themselves. Many students expressed interest in working with the Cancer Justice Network after the course was completed.

cinciprojectCommunication Graduate Students Collaborate with the Cancer Justice Network