As BLM protests are ongoing in the United States and around the world, many of us in sociology are looking at these protests not only as opportunities to push for social change, but also as opportunities to better understand how social movements work. Given the emergent nature of these protests, it is tempting to rely on students to collect data at these protests.
We should be careful not to ask students to put their bodies at risk for the sake of a faculty member's research. The risk for these students is two-fold: the risk of COVID transmission and the risk of police brutality at the protests. Police use of force, chemical weapons, and tactics like kettling and arrests are still common, and their deployment is unpredictable. For students of color, the risks of suffering targeted police violence are even greater.
While IRBs are in place to ensure ethical treatment of research subjects, we don’t have the same guidelines for ethical treatment of student researchers. The risks and costs we ask students to bear must be proportional to the benefits they receive in terms of payment or academic compensation, such as co-authorship. Graduate students may feel pressured to do this kind of research to maintain good relationships with their faculty advisors and mentors. We need to remain aware of the power relationships in our graduate training programs. Let’s not add our research projects to the list of structural inequalities our students face. Our students deserve better.