Award-winning social work researcher studies community conversations about antiracism

Tiffany Jones sits in front of fountain outside CSU Education Building

Tiffany Jones, assistant professor at Colorado State University, was recently selected as the Spring 2022 Outstanding Researcher within the School of Social Work. Her current research focuses on the development of racial consciousness and increasing knowledge about social inequalities in rural Colorado communities. Jones is approaching this complex issue with a new tool: human-centered design. “My hope is to move the needle on racism by introducing content about antiracism in this novel way that gives people agency over their change process,” Jones explained.

‘First look inward’

Tiffany Jones sits in her office in the School of Social WorkJones joined the faculty in 2018, bringing experience in building bridges between research and practice through partnerships with community organizations. Her research explores the impact of training on antiracism with the human-centered design process. Her initial research has centered on a pilot project embedded with CSU Extension to promote antiracism in a rural community in Colorado.

“The process helps folks first look inward to examine what they have internalized about how racism works in their society,” Jones explained, “and then think about what they would want to change and develop a plan to do so. Participants are working toward unlearning problematic attitudes and biases that they have and how to work together for antiracist change.”

Human-centered design process

“The human-centered design process provides participants the opportunity to think deeply about the ways that colorblind racism has impacted them and gives some structure to how to think about how to support antiracist change in the community,” Jones said. “Since we are embedded with Extension for the first iteration of the project, we are hoping that the changes started by the cohort will result in community efforts to promote antiracism in their community.”

The process is indeed moving the needle on racism, one participant at a time, and one step at a time. Comments from community members engaged in the training first increased their knowledge about social inequities: “[I learned] there are many ways that society has promoted racism, we are all caught up in it in some way,” said one participant.

Next, participants developed racial consciousness. One person explained their growing self-awareness and behavior changes: “I learned about microaggressions, a term that I’ve now heard talked about often. I think learning to recognize these and call them out to myself when I commit to them and to have knowledge to call out others changed my whole attitude about racism.”

Participants also demonstrated increases in their commitment to antiracism: “The thing I appreciated most was getting more practice talking about racism and talking to people about racism, even if doing it somewhat clumsily, still learning but getting better at it. Which I feel was very useful,” explained a member of the pilot project.

Finally, the project plants seeds for continued change after the workshop. One participant acknowledged the areas of growth to be continued past the workshop: “White fragility is something that I definitely am still grappling with. And I think even though this process was hard to overcome or was something that I didn’t even notice I was doing until it was gently pointed out to me in my resistance to participate in some of the empathy interviews.”

Project partners and funding

Jones is collaborating with Anne Williford, associate professor and Ph.D. program director in the School of Social Work, Glenda Wentworth from CSU Extension in Eagle County, community consultant Rebecca Toll, co-founder of Periscope Theory, LLC, and Alice Pugh from Civic Canopy. The team completed the pilot project last Spring, supported by an Extension Mini-Grant, and is preparing to launch the same process with a second rural community cohort. The subsequent Mini-Grant for the second cohort is more than triple the initial grant funding, indicating the promise of the pilot project’s impact.

The group has also secured a $50,000 Small Research Grant from the Spencer Foundation to bring the model to a school district this fall. “We will test the extent to which the process can promote the development of antiracist practices and policies with the hope of reducing racial disparities for students over the long term,” Jones explained. The team will explore how the model’s application and outcomes in an education setting may differ from a community setting.

Learn more about Jones and her research.

The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.