Transdisciplinary Challenge Project Awards: 2014

2 projects funded


Catalyzing Transdisciplinarity:
Cancer-Obesity Comorbidity as a Wicked Problem in Urban Milwaukee

S. Scott Graham (English)

Amy Harley (School of Public Health, Center for Urban Population Health)

Sang-Yeon Kim (Communication)

Joan Neuner (Medical College of Wisconsin)

$100,000 in total funding, over one year


Across the United States, it is becoming increasing difficult to ignore the coincidence and comorbidity of cancer and obesity. For example, being overweight and obese leads to approximately 14 percent of all cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women. Moreover, a great deal of research also documents the disproportionate prevalence of both cancer and obesity in low socioeconomic status (SES) and minority communities.


Despite this obesity-cancer link, as well as evidence of SES-related causes, little research has been conducted to document the exact manner in which SES factors combine to increase the risks and prevalence of both conditions, or how to intervene on these factors to reduce risk.


For this project, then, the team of researchers will observe, interview, and survey obesity and cancer healthcare professionals across Milwaukee to arrive at a consensus-based set of best practices recommendations for addressing obesity-cancer comorbidity. It is hoped that these best practices will have a demonstrable positive impact on obesity-cancer comorbidity in Milwaukee, and can be replicated in other similar communities.



Transforming Justice:
Rethinking the Politics of Security, Mass Incarceration, and Community Health

Anne Bonds (Geography)

Lorraine Halinka Malcoe (Public Health)

Jenna Loyd (Public Health)

Jenny Plevin (Film)

Robert S. Smith (History)

$85,000 in total funding, over one year


Mass incarceration—predominantly of poor men and women of color—has emerged as the United States’ central human rights issue for the twenty-first century.


Policymakers tend to frame questions of justice and incarceration as a delicate balance between community security and economics—“We must get tough on crime!”—one that must simultaneously achieve safety at the lowest cost. Unfortunately, this framing simply emphasizes one-dimensional metrics of crime and victim incidence and tend to posit metrics of criminal activity based on individualistic, rational choice models of behavior occurring within crime-producing neighborhoods.


These conventional methods of addressing security, however, are ill-equipped to handle today’s crisis of mass incarceration. And while recent shifts to understanding mass incarceration through a lens of public health is a marked improvement, particularly through a belief in the power of preventive intervention, it has only been recently that the discipline has begun to move from narrow approaches of measuring the physical and mental health of prisoners to identifying the contribution that imprisonment makes to racial health inequities.


The Transforming Justice project focuses its research and public engagement efforts on reframing public and academic debates about security and health. The project aims not only to document and “give voice” to these issues, but also to help develop strategies for redefining security and health from the perspectives of individuals and communities most directly impacted by mass incarceration. The project proposes innovative community-engaged research on incarceration that centers the experiences of those most impacted by prison expansion, reconceptualizes trauma and community health as structurally and historically produced, and interrogates security and safety through the everyday experiences of communities regularly subjected to practices of policing and securitization.


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