Dr. Daphne Penn is a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As a sociologist of education, she uses education as a case to explore intergroup relations and the politics of racial and ethnic stratification—especially 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.
Daphne earned her Ph.D. in Education—with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society— from Harvard University. She was a Harvard Presidential Scholar.
Daphne earned an M.S. in Sociology from Purdue University.
Daphne earned her B.S. in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt Peabody College.
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: 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.
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).
Penn, Daphne M. “Beyond Receptivity: Race, Identity, and Representation in the New Latinx South”
“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)
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