Western Illinois Student Completes Ground Breaking Research in Race and Leisure
For faculty at Western Illinois University, watching their students excel in and out of the classroom is gratifying. When that academic work crosses over into the University’s core values, and includes unique and ground breaking research, that pride is elevated.
As Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA) graduate student Taylor Brooks, of Chicago, finishes her degree, she is doing research on the exploring how Black residents’ leisure choices and involvement are impacted by living in a rural part of the country. Her research helped her win the poster presentation division at last year’s Graduate Research Day, and she recently presented her findings during
the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) conference earlier this month.
Brooks sought out local Black residents who were willing to participate in an hour-long interview about how they spend their leisure time. She interviewed a total of 14 people.
“The biggest theme was that being Black didn’t detract from their participation in activities, but it informed how they navigated them; they were strategic with where and who they spent their leisure time,” said Brooks. “Their activities were purposeful and had physical and emotional labor required to complete them.”
Brooks said the Black residents she interviewed were more likely to participate in activities where other people of color would be. Each interview participant was asked the same list of basic questions, with additional discussion factored in.
“Comfortability emerged across the board,” she said. “A lot of the interview participants loved sports, walking, traveling, going out to eat, road biking, cooking, gardening, hiking and fishing.”
Brooks added that she was surprised to learn that there hadn’t been a lot of empirical leisure studying the lived experiences of Black individuals and families in rural settings; but that fact also helped her avoid having preconceived ideas for the data that would result from her questioning.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooks had to pre-record her presentation to the IPRA conference. After the recording was played, Brooks answered questions posed by those logged in to watch.
Brooks completed her research under the guidance of RPTA Assistant Professor Jeremy Robinett, who said the data is a needed component in the field.
“lllinois’ leisure agencies have been exploring ways to better serve minoritized communities for more than 30 years,” said Robinett. “While a lot of research has described which programs different demographic groups engage in, Taylor’s research is unique in helping us better appreciate motivations for why and how Black individuals and families choose to engage, or not engage, in leisure activities in rural communities. Findings from her research will help rural leisure agencies plan and program activities in ways that will better serve Black residents in their communities.”
Before Brooks graduates in May, she will have to defend her research to a faculty committee. She is in the process of writing up her findings and hopes to hold her defense in mid- to late-March.
After graduation, Brooks hopes to work in a campus recreation setting, or a park district. She may eventually pursue a Ph.D.
“I want to work in rec and leisure, while hopefully giving back to an awesome community somewhere,” she said.
For more information about RPTA at WIU, visit wiu.edu/RPTA.