Jan. 27, 2021
For Immediate Release
WATERLOO – The federal government has awarded nearly $100,000 in research funding to four Wilfrid Laurier University faculty members who are tackling issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen Clarke, Ardavan Eizadirad, Jenna Hennebry and Yan (Wendy) Wu each received Partnership Engage Grants in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) COVID-19 Special Initiative competition, specifically designed to support research collaborations with government, industry and not-for-profit organizations.
"Though much attention is rightly paid to the contributions of natural scientists during a pandemic, the social sciences and humanities have equally important contributions to make to complete our understanding of the disease, its impacts on humanity, and the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said Jonathan Newman, vice-president: research at Laurier. “Thanks to this generous funding from SSHRC, Laurier researchers will collaborate to improve virtual learning outcomes for students, the safety of migrant agricultural workers and Canada’s economic recovery.”
Clarke, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, is partnering with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) to examine the virtual-learning experiences of graduate students with disabilities. Given that experts have raised concerns about the negative impacts of remote learning on accessibility and the ability to provide appropriate learning accommodations, Clarke’s research team aims to identify potential barriers to accommodation and champion innovative best practices that have emerged throughout the pandemic.
NEADS is a charitable organization that supports education and employment needs for disabled postsecondary students across Canada. Its representatives have disabilities themselves and can therefore provide intellectual leadership based on their lived experiences.
Eizadirad, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, is addressing the widening achievement gap faced by students in racialized and under-resourced communities as a result of COVID-19. Together with the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education (YAAACE), a not-for-profit community organization that engages Toronto children and youth in culturally relevant extracurricular programming, Eizadirad will study how to support the remote-learning needs of students in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
Since the pandemic began, YAAACE has struggled to translate its supplemental education programs to a virtual context and has seen participation dramatically decrease. By identifying specific barriers to access and engagement, Eizadirad’s research team hopes to make YAAACE’s programming more effective and responsive to the needs of its community.
In March 2020, Hennebry, an associate professor of Communication Studies and co-founder of Laurier’s International Migration Research Centre, led the formation of the Migrant Worker Health Expert Working Group, a consortium of academics and medical experts from across Canada. The group has been advocating for the safety of migrant agricultural workers, who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and is now partnering with the not-for-profit Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to survey migrant workers about their experiences.
The Migrant Agricultural Worker Pandemic Survey will ask Ontario workers about workplace health and safety measures, their response to public health messaging, and access to supports and insurance. Hennebry and her partners want to prioritize the direct participation of workers themselves as they engage in policy discussions about the systemic inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
Finally, Wu, an associate professor in Laurier’s Department of Economics, will partner with the C.D. Howe Institute on a study titled “Policy responses to the safe asset shortage in the wake of COVID-19.” Safe assets are those whose value does not fluctuate much between good times and bad, such as government debt. The financial market disruption caused by COVID-19 in March 2020 demonstrated how the fundamental demand for safety contributes to aggregate risk in the financial system.
Wu will collect data on the supply and demand of safe assets in Canada, assess how the safe asset shortage is impacted by government debt, demographic factors and financial regulations, and propose appropriate policy responses. C.D. Howe, a leading think tank for public policy, will help disseminate the findings to key stakeholders at the Bank of Canada, regulators and the public. Wu hopes her research will spur the appropriate mix of public and private investment in the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laurier researchers were similarly successful in the first phase of SSHRC’s COVID-19 Special Initiative competition last fall, receiving funding to study the impacts of COVID-19 on long-term care workers, women law enforcement officers and public health experts.
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