Rodney Haring, PhD, MSW walks the walk when it comes to community engaged scholarship. He’s not only a social work researcher and assistant professor at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, but also is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation Beaver Clan, and resides on the Cattaraugus Territory of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Rodney’s decision to live on the Territory was motivated by a desire to root his children in the community that influenced him so strongly. He also believes that knowing where one stands in relation to one’s community shapes ideas about what research can, and should, be.
Listening and Leading in the Community
While Rodney did not plan to become a researcher, he possessed a longstanding awareness of the connection between community and health, which guided his journey from community college to a four-year college, and then to Master’s and doctoral degrees. This awareness, coupled with a desire to have an impact on people’s lives and health, led Rodney to become a social work researcher. “The field selected me,” he says. From his perspective, people, places, and things do not exist in isolation. Each one influences the other, standing in relation to each other and the environment. And according to Rodney, these relationships more broadly shape people’s health.
As Rodney moved through his professional and personal journeys, he would return to his community and participate in lacrosse and hockey games. He would also offer advice to students, focusing on topics such as improving academic performance by attending every class and sitting in the front row. Underlying all of his guidance, was Rodney’s belief that the key ingredient to success was listening.
“Rather than filling every space with a word, we should be listening,” he says. “Keep listening, and when it comes time for you to talk, people will want to hear what you have to say.” Rodney firmly believes that through listening – whether to professionals, community members, elders, or children – that you gather knowledge and can make an impact on the lives and health of one’s community.
Rodney brings the knowledge he has gained through listening to his work at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He is cultivating a research agenda that enables him to remain connected to his community. His research focuses on health disparities, with an emphasis on workforce health for youth in high-risk populations. He attributes his New Connections experience – a time when he sharpened and solidified his research interests – as a defining moment in his professional career.
As a New Connections grantee in 2010, Rodney began a project in which he explored two significant health issues confronting Native American communities – childhood obesity and oral health. For Rodney, as well as for many health researchers from historically under-represented groups, the research they are most invested in conducting reflects the endemic health disparities within their own communities. The data from Rodney’s New Connections grant served as the basis for a subsequent grant, in which he investigated the relationship between obesity and cancer.
The Value of Mentorship
Rodney places significant value in mentorship. He took advantage of the mentoring offered through his New Connections grant and at New Connections professional development events. As the first Native American researcher at Roswell, he is building a mentorship team, where he receives mentoring from other senior researchers, and also offers guidance to junior colleagues himself. In addition, Rodney remains involved with the Native Research Network, where he will serve as co-chair for another two years.
Throughout all the experiences that have shaped his professional journey – as a social work researcher and as a mentor or mentee – Rodney has put into practice the lessons he learned in his community. By listening and leading, Rodney has positively influenced the health of his community, and is making an impact in the social work research field as well.