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What is SPARC?

The SPARC Environmental Justice Lab at the University of Utah is a collaborative of engaged faculty, students, community members, and scholars who are committed to enacting principles of community-based participatory research to understand issues of social and environmental health and co-create strategies to achieve justice.

The SPARC Environmental Justice (EJ) Lab is based on the follow commitments:

Student Pathways

Action Research and knowledge generation

Critical Community Engagement

Student Pathways are the foundation of the SPARC EJ Lab. We view training and mentoring as part of the research process. Student participants are learning, developing, and critically engaging in ways that promote ongoing reflection, empowerment, and social change. The term ‘pathways’ reflects a long-term commitment to a thematic area over several student cohorts. Student pathways begin with community-based participatory research and may lead to theses, dissertations, or paid positions that produce community-facing outputs and more academically-oriented scholarship. Opportunities to mentor the next group of students participating in community-engaged research are embedded into each Lab project.

Action Research is a key element to all SPARC EJ lab projects as is the generation of knowledge. Research is designed by and with those taking action towards environmental justice. We are committed to contributing to processes of the development of applied and theoretical material, which includes both community-facing outputs and traditional academic scholarship. We value experiences and knowledge of community and faculty researchers. Our research outcomes are designed to be accessible and available to inform policy and change-making at multiple scales, from community initiatives to nonprofit programs, mutual aid projects, and municipal bodies such as city councils, school boards, and state legislatures.

Critical community engagement  SPARC EJ lab projects aim to avoid the ahistorical and nonpolitical approaches that have traditionally characterized social science and ecological research. These projects work in a research paradigm that sees research as a product of both community expertise and interdisciplinary academic training. Community members, who have historically been disempowered by extractive research processes, are positioned as co-researchers and direct beneficiaries of the products and processes of the engaged research.

With 6 active focus areas (food, water access and quality, air quality, urban unsheltered homelessness, educational equity, and energy sovereignty) and sixteen active projects, the SPARC EJ lab is currently a collaboration of 8 community partners, 13 graduate and undergraduate students, and 7 faculty members and post-doctoral researchers. Because projects are co-constructed through community relationships, our initiatives often lead to new questions, projects, and explorations.

Projects embedded in the interdisciplinary SPARC EJ lab must embody all of the commitments above.  

Last Updated: 7/26/23