Summer interns partner with Social Work researcher to explore the effects of COVID-19 on older Detroiters

Tam Perry
Associate Professor Tam Perry

With funding from the Wayne State University (WSU) Humanities Clinic, Associate Professor of Social Work Tam Perry and two WSU student interns have launched the Detroit arm of a multi-country partnership to study the behavioral and emotional responses of older adults to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Humanities Clinic seeks to prepare PhD students for meaningful and diverse careers while supporting local businesses and non-profits throughout Detroit. Launched in 2017, the Clinic has become a national model for interdisciplinary graduate internship programs. As part of the Humanities Clinic 2020 summer program, doctoral history student James McQuaid and social work master’s student AeYanna Yett will partner with Perry to gather baseline data for this study that will ultimately be used to better assess and moderate psychosocial responses to future health crises.

Partnering with researchers in China, Slovenia, Canada and the University of Kentucky, Perry’s study seeks to gather data on the perspectives of Detroit seniors who have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with over 80% of deaths in the city being 60 or older (State of Michigan, 2020). Interns will recruit Detroiters to participate in an online survey with special attention paid to diversity in race, ethnicity, location (urban, suburban, rural), age, gender, employment type and region in the U.S. and Canada. Survey data will then be cataloged by individual emotional responses and coping mechanisms to the pandemic, the role that a sense of control over COVID-19 plays in stress levels and the effects of COVID-19 on their cognitive functioning. The study will also explore the development of the pandemic in each participating study country through a review of national policies, media, op-ed pieces, political cartoons and public health announcements.

McQuaid and Yett
Student interns James McQuaid and AeYanna Yett

“We are just getting started with the internship, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the enthusiasm of James and Aeyanna,” noted Perry. “I applied to become a Humanities Clinic intern because I found it to be an amazing way to pursue community research and outreach, in addition to gaining and honing skills in research, writing and publishing,” stated AeYanna Yett.  “I plan to pursue a PhD focusing on research in the Black community, and the Clinic will provide me the opportunity to gain experience in community research. I appreciate the Clinic’s integrative approach to empowering and creating change within an environment by connecting academia to the community’s lived experiences. I have learned so much so far about my interests in research under Professor Perry’s direction, and I am excited to learn more!”

The Clinic is also a unique opportunity for students to gain experience with team science and community partners. Throughout the project, Perry’s interns will reach out to numerous local, state and national community agencies. Perry has extensive partners in the city of Detroit and interns will participate in virtual community meetings on senior issues in the city, such as the Senior Housing Preservation Detroit Coalition meetings. The Coalition is comprised of 17 agencies including the United Community Housing Coalition, the Detroit/Wayne County Health Authority and the WSU Telephone Outreach Program. The Telephone Outreach Program was developed by the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research to reduce social isolation and address the unmet needs of Detroit seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interns will also participate in data analysis workshops as a way to integrate research training to better understand the lived experiences of older adults.

During this health crisis as the whole world evaluates structural injustices, the interns’ thoughtful engagement on work addressing Detroit seniors and their well-being will provide a foundation that goes well beyond classroom learning. We must learn from these times, in order to plan for the future health and social needs of seniors. - Tam Perry

With older adults aged 65+ accounting for 8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. (CDC, 2020), the impact of this pandemic on one of our most vulnerable populations is drastic and unrelenting. In the School of Social Work, we are committed to conducting research that creates new knowledge and benefits the community. The co-production of knowledge from Perry’s study embraces the role of community and will strengthen the capacity of Detroiters and communities around the globe to address current and future challenges. 

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