MSU Social Work Associate Professors Smith-Darden & McCauley Receive $100,000 from the CDC for a Documentary Film on Community-Level Violence Prevention

August 31, 2022

Joanne Smith-Darden and Heather McCauleyDr. Joanne Smith-Darden & Dr. Heather McCauley refer to themselves as research storytellers with a focus on affecting social change. Their interdisciplinary MSU School of Social Work team, SPARK Research for Social Change (@SPARK4Change) embraces creative strategies in violence prevention research and documenting collaborative processes to further the evidence base and advance the field. To broaden their reach with various media/news audiences, Smith-Darden and McCauley applied for and received a $100,000 supplemental award from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention toward the production of a docu-short film on community-level violence prevention.

Individually, they have used arts-based approaches in their work for over a decade. Dr. Smith-Darden built collective efficacy and supported youth to lead community-level change in their schools. In her research methods courses, Dr. McCauley teaches students how to use painting and drawing as tools for exploring difficult topics. Together, they lead an evaluation of Safe Haven Ministries’ curated and developmentally-tailored collection of children & youth books focused on boundaries, consent, gender, and youth empowerment – believing in the power of creativity as an intervention strategy, as a research method, and as a way to foster community connection.

This new $100,000 supplemental award builds on Cultivating Communities for Change (C3), a four-year CDC-funded study that aims to mobilize entire communities to prevent child sexual abuse. The team’s approach is highly nimble to adapt to individual communities and “what brings them to the table” for each other and for children, more specifically. With an eye on impact, documenting the journey provides innovative space to hone important social change outreach and engagement strategies as well as providing a mechanism for broad dissemination.

Dr. Smith-Darden explained, “Researchers are often asked what it means to authentically engage with community. SPARK Research for Social Change values individual and collective voices within and outside of the academy who are committed to mobilizing resources to influence systemic change and serve the common good. We look forward to telling the story of this work through documentary filmmaking.”

Also instrumental to this project are Rouan Salim (C3 Project Director and Doctoral Student, University of Michigan Department of Psychology); Jamie Kynn (Graduate Assistant and Doctoral Student, MSU School of Social Work); and Taylor Reid (Graduate Assistant and Doctoral Candidate, MSU Department of Human Development & Family Studies). C3 Co-Investigators include Dr. Kai Cortina (University of Michigan) and Dr. Adam Brown (Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College). 

For more information, visit their website: