Bringing together perspectives, expertise and experiences

October 2, 2023

Professor Paul Draus sees his new role as faculty director of the Detroit Center as an opportunity to grow connections between U-M and Detroit communities.

Portrait of Professor Paul Draus outside of the U-M Detroit Center
Sociology professor Paul Draus recently joined U-M Detroit Center as faculty director. Photo/Shaylynn Jones

For sociology professor Paul Draus, networking is more than just making professional connections. It represents bringing together a variety of perspectives, expertise and lived experience to work toward a common goal.

"People represent opportunities, people represent ideas, people represent visions," Draus says. "So anytime you meet a new person and they have a new vision, and they add something to what you see, and then it expands what you're able to do."

This perspective and skill at working with communities recently led to Draus' appointment as faculty director of the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center, a position he began on June 19. He will continue his teaching and research at UM-Dearborn as well. "The projects and the work that I'm engaged in on the Dearborn campus mesh very well with all the things I'll be doing with the Detroit Center," Draus says. “Philosophically, I see the urban environments of Detroit and Dearborn as inextricably intertwined, so it makes sense for me to be working at both simultaneously.”

Draus' current research involves projects related to environmental justice and criminal justice with a focus on racism and on finding alternatives to incarceration. Though these subject areas may appear disparate, they both grew out of his earlier research on substance abuse and the communities most afflicted. "A lot of pathways to substance use and incarceration really start in these kinds of environments if you listen to people's life history," he says. 

Draus eventually shifted his emphasis from individuals to the environments themselves, and reoriented his research to focus on people and organizations working on solutions. "Who are the people that are working on healing? Who are the people that are working on cultivating the land or cultivating community or building things?" he says. "When you start looking at it that way in Detroit, instead of looking around and seeing problems everywhere, you look around, you see leaders everywhere."

Draus sees his new Detroit Center role as more than just adding an official stamp to work he's already doing. At the Detroit Center he is joining a knowledgeable team that is already deeply engaged with both Detroit and U-M communities. He now has the opportunity to further their work by fostering more collaborative and mutualistic projects across the board. "In this position, I have the ability and the license to reach out to anybody within U-M who's working on a project or who has a skill set," he says. In other words, making connections within and between University of Michigan and Detroit communities is now literally his job. 

One consideration, Draus says, is being mindful that the university's initiatives in Detroit are mutually beneficial. Two guiding questions, he says, are, "How do we enter into Detroit communities?" and "How do we do what we do as a university?" In the latter case, he says it's crucial that the university is not simply doing research for its own benefit but is working toward co-creation.

Draus invites members of the UM-Dearborn community to explore events and programs at the center. And he actively seeks them out: He recently invited two Summer Undergraduate Research Experience students to participate in a presentation on U-M summer projects in the city, for instance, and several UM-Dearborn students, faculty and staff participated in the inaugural “Art & Agency: Taking It To The Streets” community workshop at the center last month. The project is an extension of a project Draus launched on campus last year in collaboration with history professor Anna Müller.

"The Detroit Center is a resource for them as well," he says of the UM-Dearborn community. "If they ever need to use a space, if they want to attend an event, we welcome having them there. And if we can make it easier for them to get there, we'll try and find ways to do that, too."

Article by Shaun Manning