Avoiding Risk, Protecting the “Vulnerable”: A Story of Performative Ethics and Community Research Relationships

  • Rachel Loewen Walker University of Saskatchewan
  • Andrew Hartman University of Saskatchewan
Keywords: Research Ethics Board, community-based research, non-profit organizations, ethics, risk, vulnerability


In February 2019, OUTSaskatoon, a 2SLGBTQ+ resource centre in Saskatoon, SK, received 1.1 M in federal funds to support a five-year project set to intervene in the instances and societal perpetuation of gender-based violence toward the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The project involved partnerships between OUTSaskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan, including a comprehensive research and evaluation stream to accompany the delivery of front-line services and educational activities. During the project’s application to the University’s Research Ethics Board (REB), members of the ethics review committee expressed heightened levels of fear and discomfort not only with the subject-matter, but with the role (and centrality) of the community organization within the research process. The documented experience explores pressing barriers to effective and ethical community-university research partnerships. To this end, the authors explore their communications with the REB alongside the themes of “vulnerability,” “risk-aversion,” and more broadly regarding the timelines of community work versus university processes. Together these themes maintain a culture of academic exceptionalism that causes significant barriers to the development of reciprocal partnerships between community partners and universities. In this case, the outcome was hopeful, as a formal complaint to the REB received a documented apology. In documenting this specific, though not unique, experience, we aim to highlight the possibilities for leaning in and building ethical space between and through community and academic environments to foreground both needed critique and collaborative pathways forward. 

Author Biographies

Rachel Loewen Walker, University of Saskatchewan

(she/her), PhD, is the Ariel F Sallows Chair in Human Rights with the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan. Prior to this, she served as the Executive Director of OUTSaskatoon from 2013-2020.

Andrew Hartman, University of Saskatchewan

(they/them) is a queer, Métis PhD student in Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan. Andrew has worked as a community researcher and evaluator with OUTSaskatoon from 2018 until the present.


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How to Cite
Loewen WalkerR., & HartmanA. (2022). Avoiding Risk, Protecting the “Vulnerable”: A Story of Performative Ethics and Community Research Relationships. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 8(2), 28-45. https://doi.org/10.15402/esj.v8i2.70776