This profile was fiist published on the Universities Without Walls (UWW) website.
Name: Zack Marshall
Affiliation: PhD at Memorial University Consultant, Griffin Centre, UWW 3.0
Interests: Grassroots, community-based organizing, health care ethics, marginalized communities, sexuality, sexual health, intersectional analyses, critical social science perspectives
Influences: Community activists, people who bridge academic research and community environments
If I wasn't doing all of this... I would be doing similar work outside of the university environment. I would still be doing CBR, community organizing, and raising money.
Somewhere during the 600 kilometers between Toronto and Montréal, Zack Marshall realized that the Friends for Life Bike Rally was a good analogy for the collaborative work he loves to do. He saw teams riding in groups, taking turns expending energy as the leader of the pack and later using the team's momentum while drafting behind the group. This is exactly the approach Zack takes to the community-based research he does as a PhD student at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and through his UWW Field Mentorship Placement (FMP) with Dr. Mark Tyndall at the University of Ottawa.
Zack got his start in the HIV field as a volunteer – "I started out as buddy volunteer with AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM) in 1993 with someone in the later stages of AIDS – very isolated, with no family around and just a few friends. He only lived two weeks after I met him but the connection we made had a big impact on me." He later supported the development of support services for HIV-positive women, and got involved with groups focusing on sexual health and reproductive rights. The development of personal connections was something Zack, a gay trans man, was already well acquainted with from his involvement in LGBT communities where community work often takes the form of a very personal kind of activism. He explains that these relationships and grassroots processes are what fuel his ongoing involvement in engaging communities to work towards social change.
Zack has done some pretty amazing things with the communities he works with and lives in. As a member of the Gay/Bi/Queer Trans Men's Working Group, Zack was instrumental in developing Primed: The back pocket guide for trans men and the men who dig us, a project spearheaded by James Murray through the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care AIDS Bureau. "It's been an amazing project to be a part of and such a highlight to see the impact it's had around the world. It's been translated into 7 languages now." At a recent global health meeting in San Francisco a delegate from South Africa told Zack about the one dog-eared copy, well-used by his community for education and advocacy purposes.
Zack's involvement in a research project about HIV prevention among youth labelled with intellectual disabilities brought him on to a diverse team of community members, researchers, and service providers. The team really fostered intellectual creativity, and ultimately led to Zack's decision to pursue his PhD, nearly a decade after completing his MSW at Wilfred Laurier University. After traveling to St. John's in 2010 to lead a workshop on creating accessible services for LGBT youth that lead to the development of the Coalition for LGBTQ Inclusion, he felt drawn to the island. "When I got accepted into the PhD program at MUN, I knew this is where I needed to be."
Zack credits his early involvement in the HIV field with his introduction to community-based research (CBR). Today, CBR and bridging the gap between research and communities are integral to his work. Through his doctoral studies and his FMP, Zack is addressing ethical issues in HIV CBR. The main project he has been working on in collaboration with Dr. Tyndall involves issues surrounding injection drug use and barriers to health care in Ottawa. While this is the first time he has worked with this aspect of HIV prevention and transmission, Zack says that the knowledge and experience he is gaining is opening up possibilities for the future. He is discovering his strengths in new areas of work, including knowledge translation and exchange, and peer engagement, and looking for ways to integrate these skills into upcoming work. Zack isn't the only person delving into new areas of research as a product of his FMP. As a result of the connections he's made with research teams in Ottawa, he has had the opportunity to initiate an HIV Primary Care and Ethics team including researchers from St. John's and Saint John, and to bring representation on a range of issues to the Atlantic.
Zack's positive experience with his FMP isn't all – he can't say enough about how great his involvement in UWW 3.0 has been. The online delivery format of weekly UWW webinars has allowed him to get involved with people and issues from across the country – an opportunity that doesn't always come all the way to Newfoundland. Through UWW, Zack has connected with both new and familiar faces, learned how the complexities of HIV research are positioned in a variety of different disciplines, and received feedback on writing successful grant applications. He particularly appreciates the support provided by other fellows and mentors involved with the program: "When facing barriers to implementing CBR, UWW reminds us, 'hey, there are a whole bunch of other people who see the value of this approach to research'. It's a form of moral support."
Recently, Zack's experiences in innovative CBR were recognized by a successful funding proposal to CIHR's Operating Grant in HIV/AIDS CBR competition as a co-principal investigator. The project, entitled the Trans MSM Sexual Health study, aims to use qualitative interviewing to collect in-depth information about the sexual health issues, concerns, sexual decision-making processes, and the social context of the lives of TMSM in Ontario and relate this information to HIV prevention and sexual health needs. The project will contribute to our understanding of the extent and scope of social exclusion in this community and the impact on sexual health, HIV risk, and access to HIV prevention services.
What is UWW?
UWW is the educational and training arm of the CIHR Centre for REACH in HIV/AIDS. We provide a national interdisciplinary learning and mentorship program, connecting academics, community members and policy makers to explore HIV research together. The program is funded by a Strategic Training Initiative in Health Research (STIHR) grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and housed at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN).