School Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC)


School Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC)


2018 — 2020


Conducted research with UPenn Graduate School of Education concerning the effects of self-identity and ‘burden of representation’ on student comfort and confidence around round-table discussions as well as the effects of social identities on shaping student experience of leadership.

  • Interviewed and assessed numerous key focus groups and individuals
  • Analyzed qualitative data using open and axial coding methods
  • Presented and held meetings/discussions with school administration, student and faculty body, and UPenn researchers
  • Worked with colleagues and administration on workshops and activities to spread awareness and change on campus

My school composes a diverse community where different identities are all acknowledged at the Harkness table, but may not be understood. The Harkness pedagogy, implemented in all classes, provides a means of developing student openness and creates dynamic between those from different backgrounds. However, my experiences and observations, as well as those of my peers, inspired me and some friends to look into the tensions that occur during class discourse, notably the burden of representation—the pressure one feels to represent a whole group simply because they share an identity. In particular, we examined: How does the burden of representation affect comfort levels at the Harkness table? How does this comfort, or rather discomfort, affect the learning experience?

As a recent on-campus speaker, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, pointed out: representation is dangerous because it relies on only one narrative that cannot do justice to the diversity of experiences. As students, our priority is to learn as much as we can, and we can only do so in a safe environment with a narrative plenitude. 

After months upon months of finalizing our research plan, reading through relevant literature and research cases, developing interview protocols, curating rounds of representative interviewees and focus groups, and analyzing the transcripts with open and axial coding, my team and I came up with three lessons that conclude our research:

Burden of representation is real in Harkness and it plays out differently across disciplines.

Students’ responses to teacher intervention differ depending on their identities.

Exeter students “cover.”

We wanted to make sure our findings produced an effective change in our community, so we envisioned three phases for our action plan: awareness, dialogue, and training. As one of the lead researchers, I presented our findings to the student and faculty body at a school-wide assembly as well as an interscholastic teacher conference. But, effective change has to come within the administration as well; So, we discussed possible curricular and institutional changes with Principal Rawson and with faculty involved with administrative committees such as the Committee on Equity and Inclusion last year, and we are continuing that conversation this year. Finally, training. As our research showed, students experiencing the burden of representation believe teacher intervention can prevent discomfort at the table.  My team and I continue to encourage Exeter to facilitate workshops to help teachers with mediating discourse and promoting a welcoming environment for all.

Research Presentation (PDF Download): SPARC Presentation

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