I’m an associate professor of sociology at the University of Mary Washington. I teach and do research about poverty, housing, neighborhoods and schools. I think a lot about civic engagement, and ways to get us – students, faculty, neighbors – to create change with our communities.
As with most of us, my biography shapes my interests. Growing up in Richmond, VA and attending Richmond city schools led me to think and talk explicitly about race. I was raised during busing and clustering, and attended a high school that created lots of opportunities for us to critically examine boundaries of race and class.
After college, I lived in San Francisco, Richmond and for a brief time in Beijing. During these many moves, I discovered a love of cities, and a strong desire to think more about how they work. Why is San Francisco so different from Richmond – not simply in architecture and layout, but in terms of population, politics, and the politicization of the population?
These questions sent me to Temple U in Philadelphia, for a degree in Urban Studies. I focused on study of housing and neighborhoods, and spent a couple of years as a housing counselor for people living with HIV/AIDS. Another year spent housing counseling with low-income first-time homebuyers in Richmond convinced me that although I really enjoy working with people individually, I wanted to think about how to make changes at a larger scale – and thus, off I went for a PhD in Sociology, at Emory University. I focused on issues of inequality, and the way these play out in urban areas – as well as learning more about social movements, and the ways that people have tried to fight back against injustice. I did research in several neighborhoods in Atlanta, learning to interview and to think about reciprocity, and to love analyzing the stories that we tell about ourselves and others.
My first academic job at Boise State was wonderful and fulfilling, and exposed me to another new part of the country. I thought and learned so much more about the experiences of first generation college students, and the unique nature of living in a community very influenced by Mormons, an Air Force Base, a significant Native American population in the state and a growing community of migrant farm workers – and the disparate pieces of power wielded by each of these groups. And I missed the South. And my family. So, back to Virginia.
This time around, I am exploring things I have picked up all along the way. I continue to work on issues of gentrification, of how parents and residents make meaning of their neighbors and schools, of homelessness and homeless organizations, and of how our discourse about poverty shapes what is possible on the policy agenda. I am trying to find my way in looking to institutionalize university-community partnerships that are based on trust and equality.
And now I am trying to think about how a digital presence can enhance all of this work. Stay tuned…