The CHE program has carved out a well-defined niche that distinguishes it from other departments across the country. As the reputation of our faculty continues to grow, our program is rapidly becoming nationally and internationally recognized for developing advanced methods of community health promotion research and practice. The distinctive strengths of our program are:
Focus on marginalized vulnerable populations
Research by the UMass CHE faculty is driven by a common motivation grounded in social justice, a commitment to redress the disproportionate burden of suffering that falls upon poor, disenfranchised and marginalized communities. The CHE faculty have active programs of research examining the physical and mental health needs of indigenous peoples, violence among sexual minorities, sexual health of young Latinas, positive identities of adult men of color, and the health and development needs of people living in LMIC countries.
The vast majority of programs across the country assume that human behavior is no different than any other event in the natural world, and therefore, best explained through testing predictive cause-and-effect hypotheses. In contrast, CHE faculty at UMass draw on a humanistic model that assumes that people have the capacity to make choices, their behavior is not determined by causal laws, and therefore, an important goal for the field is to expand human autonomy, rather than develop the technologies of behavior control. Our work aims to promote human dignity, rather than merely increasing indicators of physical fitness.
The CHE faculty share a common interest in conducting research that actively engages community members in identifying the health problems that are most important to them and in examining a range of possible solutions to these issues, which can then be tested in rigorous scientific studies. Consistent with our shared vision of the principal goal of the field, we are committed to assisting community members gain the skills that will enable them to better understand and gain control over the forces that affect their health. This approach is widely referred to as Community-Based Participatory Research in the field today.
Innovative, culture-centered methodologies
CHE faculty research aims at developing new theoretical frameworks, which thereby enable the development of innovative interventions, by analyzing the lived subjective experiences, meanings and interpretations that local cultures give to health experiences. In pioneering the use of multi-modality methods, such as digital storytelling, our research aims to create spaces in civil society and other forums for expressing generative themes regarding the collective issues of community members, towards the goal of promoting dialogue, bolstering wellbeing, and addressing social inequities. Our approach positions marginalized communities to define relevant issues, broaden the evidence base, and create more engaging modes of dissemination to influence policymakers and the public at large.