Daphne Penn is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the roots of racialized inequality in the United States and the politics of ethno-racial stratification within the context of demographic change. In particular, she is interested in (a) how schools, as organizations, are shaped by and respond to the broader social and political forces within their local contexts; (b) how different stakeholders think about equity and the distribution of resources and opportunities within diversifying and resource-constrained contexts; and (c) how decision-makers manage the needs, interests, and demands of diverse constituencies. Daphne’s research also centers the roles of identity and power in maintaining or attenuating ethno-racial stratification.

Her co-edited volume, The Dark Side of Reform: The Potential of Contemporary Public Policy for Racial Equity, is currently under contract with Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield. She is also writing her first solo-authored book, The American Dream Deferred, which explores the politics of immigration-related demographic change in a historic African American high school in the U.S. South. Daphne’s scholarly work has appeared in Sociological Studies of Children & Youth and Sociology of Education. Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Center for American Political Studies, the Immigration Initiative at Harvard, and the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.


Harvard University

Daphne earned her Ph.D. in Education—with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society— from Harvard University. She was a Harvard Presidential Scholar.

Purdue University

Daphne earned an M.S. in Sociology from Purdue University.

Vanderbilt University

Daphne earned her B.S. in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt Peabody College.

Book Projects

The American Dream Deferred: Her solo-authored book project, The American Dream Deferred, explores how the educational incorporation of unaccompanied minors from Guatemala complicates and is complicated by the ongoing quest for equity in educational policy and practice at a historic—yet stigmatized—African American high school in the U.S. South. Specifically, she examines how newcomers’ integration into an under-resourced, de facto segregated school shapes their educational trajectories as well as their social construction as potential beneficiaries of education reform in a context that has remained largely untouched by immigration until recently. She draws on archival data, interviews with key stakeholders, and participant observations conducted between August 2018 and December 2019 to explore the politics of demographic change at the school. Her research demonstrates how school resource constraints, institutionally embedded practices among educators, and the social construction of older adolescent immigrants as low-wage workers—rather than students—contributed to a two-tiered system of education at the school and constrained newcomers’ ability to use education as a tool for social mobility.

The Dark Side of Reform: Exploring the Impact of Public Policy on Racial Equity contains nine chapters on the development of social policies with the potential to advance racial equity. In addition to studying these policies and their implications, the chapters in this volume demonstrate how lessons from the past can be used to inform the direction of current discussions. At the heart of these conversations are concerns about whether Black people, in particular, will receive the full benefit of transformative laws that may emerge in the coming years. The volume also offers recommendations on implementing policies that address the unique concerns of structurally disadvantaged communities with particular emphasis on Black and Latinx people.


Penn, Daphne M. 2021. “Beyond Receptivity: Exploring the Role of Identity in Educators’ Orientation Toward Newcomers in a New Immigrant Destination.” AERA Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/23328584211025529

Hibel, Jacob and Daphne M. Penn. 2020. “Bad Apples or Bad Orchards? An Organizational Analysis of Educator Cheating on Standardized Accountability Tests.” Sociology of Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040720927234

Hibel, Jacob, Daphne M. Penn, and R.C. Morris. 2016. “Ethnoracial Concordance in the Association between Academic Self-Efficacy and Achievement during Elementary and Middle School.” Sociological Studies of Children & Youth 20:31-63. 

Penn, Daphne M. 2014. “School Closures and Redistricting Can Reproduce Educational Inequality.” University of California, Davis Center for Poverty Research Policy Brief, 3(5). 

Recent Talks

“Inheriting the South: Race, Education, and Equity in the New Latinx South.” Sociology of Education Association, Monterey, February 21-23, 2020.

“The American Dream Deferred: The Promises and Pitfall of Education for Unaccompanied Minors in the Nuevo South.” Vanderbilt University Academic Pathways Symposium, Nashville, February 14, 2020.  

“The American Dream Deferred: Immigrant Education Incorporation in the New Latino South.” Contemporary Ethnography and Inequality Workshop, Harvard University, Cambridge, October 24, 2019.

Fellowships and Awards

IIH Graduate Research Fellowship (2019)

Center for American Political Studies Graduate Seed Grant (2019)

Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship (2015)

UC Davis Center for Poverty Research Visiting Fellowship (2013)

Teaching Philosophy and Experience

In her role as an educator, Daphne’s primary objective is to provide students with a framework for understanding schools as a microcosm of society and encourage them to think critically about the root causes of racial and ethnic inequality. To achieve her objectives, she constructs the classroom as a space for critical dialogue around the socio-historical origins of ethnoracial stratification in the United States and potential mechanisms for reducing inequality.

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Lecturer – Race, Education, and the Roots of Inequality in the U.S. (Spring 2021) – Reading List

Teaching Fellow – Politics and Education Policy in the United States (Fall 2017 & 2020)

Teaching Fellow – Problem Solving, Race, and Schools in the U.S. (Fall 2017)

Teaching Fellow – Cultural Explanations for Racial and Ethnic Inequality (Fall 2016)

Public Engagement

During her doctoral journey, Daphne discovered an unfortunate truth—the populations under study are often the last to know about the findings and trends that may positively or negatively impact their everyday lives. Therefore, she decided early in her academic career that she wanted to bridge the gap between the scholarly community and the general public. In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Daphne is the founder of The Ebony Tower, an online platform created to help students from marginalized backgrounds thrive in the academy. She also works to fulfill her mission by co-hosting the BhD (Black and Highly Dangerous) Podcast—a platform dedicated to using academic research to inform everyday conversations about issues impacting the Black community.

Curriculum Vitae


Daphne M. Penn