Dr. Daphne Penn is a visiting fellow in education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As a political sociologist of education and public policy scholar, her research is generally concerned with how public schools are shaped by and respond to the broader social and political forces within their local contexts. In particular, she is interested in (a) how stakeholders think about equity and the distribution of educational resources and opportunities within diversifying school contexts; and (b) how decision- makers manage the needs, interests, and demands of diverse constituencies. She also uses education as a case to explore intergroup relations and the politics of racial and ethnic stratification—especially within the context of ethnoracial demographic change. Along those lines, Daphne’s current research focuses on how the new demography of the American South is shaping politics, social and education policy, and Black-Latinx relations in the region.

Book Project

Her 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 Tennessee. 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.


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.


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). 

Other Research Projects

Parents, Elite Frames, and the Great Charter School Debate

Using the 2016 Massachusetts charter ballot initiative campaign as a case, this study explores a) parents’ perceptions of elite rhetoric surrounding the ballot initiative, b) their beliefs about charter schools’ potential to reduce or exacerbate racial and ethnic inequality in education, and c) how those beliefs shaped their support for or opposition to lifting the cap on charter schools. Overall, parents felt that the content of elite rhetoric did not reflect their concerns, needs, or interests as parent seeking high-quality schooling options, regardless of school sector. Results indicate that respondents’ support for or opposition to the expansion was based on their personal experience with charters and/or traditional public schools and their perception of how the expansion might impact racial and ethnic inequality in education (and more broadly). 

The Dark Side of Reform

Historically, major governmental reforms—such as the 1994 Violent Crime Bill, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the War on Drugs, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement—have negatively impacted communities of color. The negative outcomes of these policies have generally occurred because political leaders and advocates failed to identify and closely consider the potential unintended consequences of policy proposals for Black and Brown communities. Our edited book, The Dark Side of Reform, will draw on lessons from the past to explore the potential unintended consequences of contemporary policy proposals for Black and Latinx people. Specifically, this book will a) examine the potential positive and unexpected impacts of recent social, education, healthcare, and criminal justice policy proposals on communities of color and b) provide insight into how policymakers can develop reforms that are both inclusive and beneficial to communities that have been systematically disadvantaged by governmental policies. 

There Goes the School: The Politics of Class, Race, and Space in School Redistricting

This study examines parental attitudes toward the social composition of schools by analyzing data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with parents (N=25) facing a school reassignment process with the potential to racially and socioeconomically diversify schools. The project explores three major questions: (1) are schooling preferences color and class-blind (e.g., are they influenced by the racial and socioeconomic composition of schools or other “objective” characteristics such as academic achievement and location)? (2) To what extent do choices reflect in-group preferences versus out-group bias? (3) How do parents frame their support for or opposition to integrative redistricting? Findings support previous research indicating that self-interest, symbolic attitudes, and status concerns frame White parents’ opposition to integrative efforts and policies.

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)

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.


Daphne M. Penn