Dr. Troy Harden is a Professor of Practice and Director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Institute (RESI) at Texas A&M University. We spoke to Dr. Harden about his scholarship that addresses issues relating to racial equity, community violence, and social trauma.
Community Education and Leadership
Dr. Harden has over 25 years of experience working in higher education. He has served as a leadership consultant with multiple institutions on issues of race, gender, and poverty, including the City of Chicago’s Department of Family Support Services, the Latino Policy Forum, and the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention. He recently developed and led Northeastern Illinois University’s Master of Social Work Program before accepting his current position as the Director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Institute (RESI) at Texas A&M University.
What is the inspiration for your research?
Growing up, Dr. Harden’s family was of modest means. In spite of humble resources, Dr. Harden’s parents strove to be “king and queen with a common touch,” acting as role models and helping others who were less fortunate.
Dr. Harden first worked as a social worker after college, motivated to reduce disparities in health, housing, and other areas. He embraced the communities he worked in and strove to confront some of the most pressing issues in Chicago, including substance abuse, mental health, and violence. While Dr. Harden never lost sight of the people he worked with day-to-day, he was compelled to examine the root causes of various issues, leading to a deeper interest and understanding of practice and theory.
Dr. Harden’s experience led him to examine the nature of violence and trauma. Ultimately, his work focuses on examining systems. Inadequate systems may lead to a lack of support and may increase the risks of violence and other serious issues. Well-designed systems may repair and perhaps even end harm. Given the systemic issues that appear to be trapping many American communities in cycles of poverty and violence, systemic reform has become a pressing issue in the United States.
What about your work has been most surprising?
Arguably, violence dehumanizes victims, perpetrators, and communities. Young Black men, in particular, are often stereotyped. Through years of work and research, Dr. Harden has found that young men often have a much greater emotional capacity than is perceived by society. Although these findings do not come as a surprise to him personally, they challenge many of the preconceived notions and narratives surrounding young men and violence
This is particularly true given how powerful a social construct masculinity has become. “Social construction plays a huge role,” Dr. Harden said. “Even though most young men I come across have been extremely vulnerable.” Young men may feel pressured to act tough and to avoid crying or otherwise seeming weak. Extreme masculinity may become a facet of system pressures that keeps young men trapped in a cycle of violence.
Through cultivating safe, healthy spaces, Dr. Harden has found that men are often more willing to engage in dialogue. While safe spaces can unlock the potential for both young men and society to develop healthier emotional expression and mental health, they remain scarce.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When Dr. Harden is not furthering his research, he cultivates his love for nature and live music. “Since the start of the pandemic,” Dr. Harden said. “I have been drawn to love nature and the outdoors even more than before.” He also enjoys outdoor dining and music.