Sociology Research Contributes to Lessening the Impact of COVID-19

April 23, 2020 by Sherri Klassen

Many of the Faculty in the Sociology Department have recently adjusted their research to address issues arising as a result of COVID-19 as well as the social distancing and economic shutdown that have been put in place to contain the pandemic. Four sociology faculty members have recently had their projects funded by the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, a fund established by the University of Toronto to support high impact research. The projects were identified as having strong "potential to have a positive impact on individuals, communities and public health systems within a time frame of a year or less."

Professor Jessica Fields (left) is heading a research initiative investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of sexual and gender minorities living in Toronto. With collaborators in Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies, Geography, Public Health and Medicine, Fields will gather quantitative and qualitative data as to health behaviours and mental health status of sexual and gender minorities during the pandemic. The project is titled Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health and Vulnerability of Sexual and Gender Minorities living in Toronto. Professor Fields is a Full Professor of Sociology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society located at the UT Scarborough Campus. PhD student Ali Greey is also listed as a co-investigator on the grant.

Professor Joe Hermer (second from left) is leading a research project called Pandemic Policing of the Homeless in Canada: From Crime Control to Public Health Strategy. This project seeks to mitigate the risks posed to homeless people by policing during the pandemic. Hermer and his colleagues will use funding from the COVID-19 Action Fund to research, design and release interventions to help policing move from a crime control model to one that reflects a public health approach. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Scarborough campus.

Professor Andrew Miles (second from right) is conducting research to understand the role that pro-social behaviour can play to mitigate the negative public health impacts of social distancing. Entitled, Using Prosocial Behaviour to Safeguard mental Health and Foster Emotional Well-Being, this project will use an online experiment and daily tracking of 1400 Canadians to test how repetition and variation of prosocial acts generate positive outcomes, and how this varies by the level of social and/or economic hardship that individuals are facing during the pandemic. Professor Miles is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. Laura Upenieks, a recent alumna of our PhD program, is a member of Professor Miles' team.

Professor Scott Schieman (right) is leading a team examining the impact of COVID-19 on the work lives of Canadians. His team also includes Professors Melissa Milkie, Sharla Alegria and Irene Boeckman of the Sociology Department and Sarah Reid, a recent alumna of our PhD program. This team seeks to identify trajectories of change in employment, work, and economic conditions over the course of the pandemic with a focus on job insecurity and disruption, financial strain, and restructuring of the work-home interface. They will also describe how these disruptions and transitions correspond to psychosocial functioning especially the sense of powerlessness, mistrust, social isolation, and loneliness and then trace the consequences for sleep problems and different forms of emotional distress. The project is entitled COVID-19 Impacts on the Quality of Work and Economic Life in Canada. Professor Schieman is a Full Professor of Sociology, Canada Research Chair in the Social Contexts of Health, and Chair of the Department at the UT St. George campus.