Mariel Delacruz: Empowering Communities by Humanizing Research Methods

PhD Criminal Justice

Mariel Delacruz is committed to empowering the community that she grew up in. Through her work in criminal justice, Mariel works to ensure that researchers who aim to help people in inner-city areas keep the needs of the communities at the center of their efforts. 

Mariel Delacruz smiling on campus

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you choose to attend graduate school at Temple? 

I am from Philadelphia, I was born here and raised in different neighborhoods throughout North Philly. I came to be a criminal justice major because I saw a lot of injustice and disinvestment in the communities I grew up in and I knew this was an area where my experiences could inform how we discuss criminal justice issues. People in my circle – peers, friends, and family members – were constantly in and out of the system and were being treated unfairly, and I remember being in high school thinking about how I could bring a lived-experience perspective to this area of work. Because of that, my research interests have naturally always aimed to uplift and center the voices of Black and brown Latinx communities. Being able to contribute to my own community, especially in North Philly, has been a motivating factor for me throughout my studies. 

What kind of work are you currently doing, as you earn your degree?  

Having just finished my classes, I have now been focusing on a project that has to do with both my professional work and my academic work – the CoLab project, which is an initiative that I’ve helped pilot starting in the Germantown section of the city. It's an educational tool for data-informed community engagement with community stakeholders. We received a large grant to work with community organizations in the Southwest, West, Germantown, and Kensington areas. My other work is to stay involved in my department; this fall I started my term as the graduate representative for The Criminal Justice Graduate Student Association (CJGSA) e-board, working as a liaison between the grad students and the departments graduate committee.  

What impact do you hope to make with your work/research in your field?  

My methodology aims to humanize people and consider all the factors that lead individuals to make certain decisions in their lives. In the arts and the sciences, we have been trained to think about data and to think about quantifying everything to understand patterns and behavior – but this kind of dehumanized analysis often actually has a negative impact on the communities it aims to help. Having people like me, who are close to the communities we aim to learn from, in these roles, is vital to truly understanding what people's lived experiences are and capturing their stories in a humble way. My goal is to focus on community-based participatory research and action research, where we can take the things that we learn from communities and develop real solutions to the issues that we find. I think it’s important that we guide research projects in a way that is inclusive and respectful, and actually promotes collaboration instead of just extracting information from a community and not having a mechanism to co-own research projects or to include communities in reporting back what we have learned from them. 

How do you find community at Temple? Who do you consider your community here?  

As far as finding community goes, I am from Philly, so I already have strong foundations and a village here. I have also made connections in my program – my first time on campus was in the midst of the pandemic, but I was able to find community within my department, and I feel blessed to have them. Recently I was a speaker at a Graduate School panel for Hispanic heritage month, and one of the conversations that we had was about representation on campus and in graduate school. I have struggled to find representation as an Afro-Latina woman in grad school, and before that Comunidad panel, I had no idea there were so many of us Latinx graduate students in the different disciplines. 

Is there any advice you’d offer to potential graduate students at Temple? 

I will say this – I love Philly. We’re a very historically rich city. There has been a lot of pain inflicted into our communities. But also, good things have happened here. This city is very rich culturally and truly special and unique, and I’ll just say to any person coming here who isn’t from Philly, it’s important that we take the time to acknowledge the place that we’re in and be grateful for where we are. I suggest that everyone gets to know their communities. Get to know who the people in Philadelphia truly are and engage with them through your work. It’s important to think about how as academics, graduate students, and faculty in Philadelphia, we respect and uplift the people of this city.