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Campus News

February 21st, 2023

Protected populations 'should be given a voice'

Buday-Murray presents challenges in social science research

If social science research is "about making the world a better place," why do researchers experience such resistance from those in authority?

That was one of the questions Dr. Michele Buday-Murray tackled Wednesday night in Garrett College's most recent Joan Crawford Lecture Series presentation. Buday-Murray, an assistant professor at Garrett College, used her own doctoral research focused on the Prison Rape Elimination Act as an example.

"I sent research requests to 49 State Departments of Corrections," said Buday-Murray. "I received 17 outright denials; 31 either did not respond or stated that they would review and then get back with me and failed to do so."

Buday-Murray said she was twice denied by the corrections institution in which she worked.

"The prison system in which I worked denied my request in less than 24 hours," recalled Buday-Murray. "I didn't even think you could read it that fast. I then reworked the proposal – and was denied again within 48 hours.

"The gap in research concerning protected populations is concerning," continued Buday-Murray, who touched on other "protected populations" that include minors, the cognitively impaired, and the economically and educationally disadvantaged.

The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act was intended to address rape and sexual assault in the prison system, but Buday-Murray said "no one had ever asked inmates what they thought – in fact, I found very little research about prison rape or sexual assault."

Buday-Murray said the creation of "protected populations" was to prevent exploitation of those populations during research. While that is a noble goal, she noted that "a lot of administrators are really taking advantage of that ‘protected' label."

"We're not getting the full story from those people that we could be helping from our research," she said.

Buday-Murray said she finally found a state willing to work with her research project because "I was stubborn and adamant – this was a group that I worked with on a daily basis and I saw some things going on that were suitable for research."

Buday-Murray's research proposal was eventually accepted by Kentucky's Department of Corrections. Even so, the general level of resistance to her proposal illustrated the challenge of "giving a voice to the voiceless."

Buday-Murray did not want to conduct in-person inmate research that might single out inmates as having provided her with information. Instead, she found a "safe, confidential way to get mail in and out of the prisons."

She sent out approximately 1,000 packets to inmates explaining her dissertation project, providing a way to get informed consent, and including the six-page, open-ended-response survey on which her dissertation was build.

"I received 140 surveys back," she said. "They included just heart-wrenching, horrible stories, people admitting abuse, writing, ‘I hope it helps somebody else.' The inmates had to write out their responses – one even attached additional comments and paid the extra postage to return the survey to me.

"There are many populations that just don't have very much of a voice," concluded Buday-Murray, adding, "There needs to be some way to regulate what's working and what isn't for protected populations like prisoners and children in foster care."

Garrett College's faculty created the Joan Crawford Lecture Series in honor of the dynamic educator Joan R. Crawford.

Crawford, who died in 2010, served the College community for more than 30 years, including serving as the head of the humanities division and director of enrollment. After her retirement, Crawford was named Professor Emerita.

The Joan Crawford Lecture Series of presentations are offered free of charge, and the public and community members are invited to attend.

All presentations from the Joan Crawford Lecture Series will be available to view online through the College's Facebook page. The lectures will be live streamed and recordings will be posted shortly after the event.