Dean's Research Associate: Kendall Morris

January 25, 2023 - Brandon Drain

Kendall Morris is a College of Social Science Dean’s Research Associate whose focus is on community violence and trauma in Black neighborhoods. She is a part of a team of researchers who were recently funded by the College as part of the Strategic Partnership Grants Program to improve understanding of community-based violence reduction and neighborhood safety

 There are many underlying issues that plague Black communities. These range from economic deprivation, outright poverty, cyclical crime, systemic racism and more. However, none of those issues have the immediate and long-lasting impact as community violence – an issue that rips families apart, reshapes neighborhoods and communities, and creates a rippling effect from generation to generation, ensnaring families to relive traumas of the past. 

 “It impacts your sense of safety, your mental health, your physical health and the quality of your neighborhood.” 

 For Kendall Morris, her focus for this issues came during her MSW Program at the U of M, where she was a part of a pilot study that looked at the impact of sudden death on families in Detroit, Michigan. This sparked a deep concern and interest for the subsect study in a more broadened sense, leading her to pursue her doctorate at Boston University with community violence as her concentration.  

 “What’s happening in Black communities is a chronic cycle that continues to plague neighborhoods and communities,” Morris said. “It’s really shaping the outlook of the community, even if you don’t have a direct member of your family killed.” 

 “The issue is everyone doesn’t have the resources to leave – they’re stuck in that cyclical violence.” 

 Morris’s philosophy on her research is more qualitative, given the issue. A more community-based approach vs a quantitative study offers a more in-depth, interconnected feel for the most affected aspect of the issue: The families who are impacted. 

 “I like to talk to the people who are being impacted,” Morris said. “In order to really understand this issue, we need to get into these communities and talk to the people who are dealing with it firsthand.” 

 While completing her graduate studies at Boston University, Morris’s research pursuits became all too real.  

 “My aunt was murdered in her home on the east side of Detroit by the father of her children,” said Morris. “This was someone that we knew very well, someone we vacationed with and did things with. It makes it even more saddening.” 

 Dealing with the loss of her aunt, while being miles away from home, prompted the Detroit native to further pursue her education with more drive, focus and empathy. It also reinforced the perspective she had on the issue of community violence within Black communities -- as Morris comes from a more well-off, educated family -- which deviates from the stereotypical narrative of the issue stemming from poor Blacks. 

 “The families that I’ve talked to, their family members were killed for random reasons.” 

 Kendall Morris’s journey has led her to Michigan State University as a Dean’s Research Associate, where she hopes to imbed a sense of awareness and action in the research community as a whole. 

 “I want my work to inform the greater research community because, unfortunately, the topic that I’m researching isn’t being heavily researched,” said Morris.  

 A revival of Detroit is also one of her aims, and she continues to put the needs and perspectives of those affected first. 

 “It’s going to take a multi-tiered approach,” said Morris. “We need to invest more into these communities and neighborhoods so that people feel a sense of community and belonging