Population Health

November 10, 2022

Spotlight: Graduate student Evalynn Fae Taganna Romano reflects on her time at UW

Image of Evalynn Fae Taganna RomanoWhile most people were isolating early during the COVID-19 pandemic, one University of Washington student was delivering deliver weekly breakfasts, cloth masks, thank you notes and grocery gift cards for more than 200 UW custodians. That student was Evalynn Fae Taganna Romano, a UW alum who received her undergraduate degree in Psychology in 2010, before returning for a master’s in both public health and social work in 2021.

Romano has a long track record of advocacy work, her most prominent being The Custodian Project, formerly known as the UW Custodian Project, which began in March 2020. Many UW custodians are Black, Indigenous, people of color and immigrants, which puts them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Romano, a daughter of UW custodians, created this project with the overarching goal of uplifting custodian voices and advocating for better working conditions.

In addition to delivering food and shoes, Romano developed the UW Custodian Photography Project. Through photos and stories, Romano hopes to depict the health impacts of custodians’ workplace, neighborhoods and homes while informing the how to better support custodians. She recently organized their first community event to celebrate and honor custodians and their work.

“Hopefully we can shift our culture to better respect custodians for their work because they are public health workers,” she said.

Romano’s research interests focus primarily on community-based participatory and qualitative research, particularly how that research can be shared with a broader audience that includes policymakers. Supporting communities of color is especially important to Romano, a big reason why she also decided to pursue social work.

“I love being able to put together two of my passions: research and advocacy,” she said.

Romano was recently published in the Family and Community Health journal for her Master of Public Health thesis manuscript, “’No One Should Feel Like They’re Unsafe’: Mobility Justice Photovoice as a Youth Advocacy Tool for Equitable Community Mobility.” Romano gained the opportunity through her experience as a research assistant for PATHSS (Participatory Active Transportation for Health in South Seattle), a study funded by the Population Health Initiative. Romano’s thesis aimed to examine personal and community mobility challenges and opportunities among youth of color to advance equitable community mobility.

Being able to support BIPOC youth by providing spaces where they can feel heard was important to Romano. This study used a mobility justice framework, meaning it takes into account intersecting identities and how they impact the way people experience public spaces.

Photovoice, a photography-based storytelling method, was a method they used to better understand mobility in the area. For several weeks Romano met with youth who shared photographs and stories on their mobility experiences. How do they get around their community, what are the challenges they face, and when do they feel unsafe in their community?

Ten youth participated in six, 90 – 120-minute online sessions from November to December 2020. Here they were provided with “photography missions” ranging from general experiences to challenges and safety. Responses from youth included feeling unsafe due to the lack of street lighting. During the fall when Seattle gets dark after 4 p.m., youth who rely on public transportation do not feel comfortable walking back home. Other youth reflected on how their identities affect how they navigate their community.

One youth shared their experience translating for their parents, who do not speak English, and how they would receive “nasty looks.” Others commented on how infrastructure in the area was not up to date, including crosswalks with no stop signs and bus stops with no shelter.

“One of the big things we were advocating for was having youth more involved in these policymaking decisions that often they don’t have an opportunity to be a part of,” she said.

Romano noted that funds from the Population Health Initiative allowed them to pay participants for their time and pay for her thesis manuscript to be open access. “That’s another thing that was important to me, not just collecting information from the community but also giving it back to them,” she said.

After graduating Romano became a therapist with API Chaya, an organization that serves survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking from Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, Asian, and South Asian communities. She currently works as a bereavement clinician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Romano plans to continue serving communities of color with hopes of doing research in the near future.

“There aren’t a lot of BIPOC grief clinicians, so being able to serve BIPOC youth and communities is something I’m really passionate about,” she said.