The SexGen Policy lab is co-lead by founding University of Pennsylvania faculty members, Amy Castro Baker, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Policy and Practice and Amy Hillier, PhD, MSW, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning in the School of Design. The lab aims to build and disseminate knowledge at the intersection of critical theory, gender, and sexuality with a distinct emphasis on applied policy, economic, and housing research. Our work positions social science research on gender in a posture of resilience and strength to be leveraged for social change, social supports, and policy innovation. We reconceptualize policy work as needing to occur across the public and private institutions that inform and infuse the lives of people experiencing marginalization in society and the housing economy--particularly those of LGBTQ youth who are most at risk.
The lab provides methodological and theoretical scaffolding while serving as a research hub for Penn students, faculty, and community partners who co-lead our research efforts. Current projects include community-based research on gender, housing policy, asset accumulation, and the experience of marginalized populations in housing and policy systems. We employ a range of methodology including mixed-methods, program evaluation, exploratory qualitative research, and critical participatory action research. Funding for the SexGen Policy lab is generously provided by the Penn Futures Project and an alumni gift to the School of Social Policy and Practice.
Amy Castro Baker, PhD, MSW, co-founded the SexGen Policy Lab and is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Policy & Practice of the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her PhD in Social Welfare from the CUNY Graduate Center and her MSW from SP2. Dr. Castro Baker currently teaches Policy Analysis, as well as, Gender and Social Policy in the MSSP and MSW programs. Her research explores how economic and social policies contribute to existing gender and race disparities, particularly within housing and lending markets. She was awarded the GADE Research Award, the Society for Social Work and Research Outstanding Dissertation Award and the Nina Fortin Memorial Award for her work on women and risky lending markets in the subprime foreclosure crisis. Prior to her time at Penn, Dr. Castro Baker also worked with SPARK, an interdisciplinary movement pushing back on the sexualization of women and girls in the media while pioneering new methods of systems level social change for the digital age. Her research has been published by Social Service Review, Social Science & Medicine, Social Work, The American Journal of Public Health, the Institute for Women's Policy Research, and featured throughout the popular press. She is passionate about providing research mentorship for Penn students focused on integrating critical theory, gender, and applied policy studies.
Dr. Amy Hillier received her MSW and PhD from Penn's School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2). She co-founded the SexGen Policy lab and is currently an Associate Professor of at the SP2, where she also directs the Master of Science in Social Policy Program (MSSP), and holds a secondary faculty appointment at PennDesign. She teaches courses on geographic information systems (GIS) mapping for social work, social policy, city planning, and urban studies graduate and undergraduate students. Her research has focused on geographic disparities in health and housing, particularly across racial and economic groups, including issues such as mortgage redlining, access to healthful food, park use, and exposure to outdoor advertising.
She is the co-director of The Ward: Race and Class in Du Bois' Seventh Ward (URL: www.dubois-theward.org), a teaching, research and outreach project focused on WEB Du Bois' 1899 classic book, The Philadelphia Negro. Through that project, Dr. Hillier visits Philadelphia public schools to engage high school students in discussions about historical and contemporary issues relating to race and racism.
Most recently, she has been collaborating with faculty, staff and students across and beyond campus to integrate content about gender and sexuality into graduate curriculum in order to better prepare students to work with LGBTQ communities, particularly transgender youth of color. She has worked with staff and youth from the Attic, Philadelphia's LGBTQ youth center, to advocate for greater support for transgender students within the Philadelphia public schools.
Kel Kroehle is a doctoral student at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Kel’s research interests include the conceptualization and deployment of gender within social work; critical theory; posthumanism and social work research; and youth liberation movements. They are currently collaborating with Dr. Amy Hillier on a project exploring the educational experiences of transgender youth, and with Dr. Ezekiel Dixon-Román on a project exploring the ways in which transgender youth disrupt and challenge traditional research methods.
Prior to joining Penn’s doctoral program, Kel spent seven years as Director of The Bryson Institute of Philadelphia’s Attic Youth Center. In this role, they worked with and on behalf of LGBTQ youth to facilitate trainings on gender and sexuality to develop cultures of respect and support for the LGBTQ community, ultimately reaching over 12,000 youth serving professionals. An Ohio native, Kel Kroehle earned their Bachelor’s degree in Gender Studies and LGBTQ studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before earning their Master of Social Work degree at the University of Pennsylvania.
Harim Jung, MSW candidate, grew up in Madison, NJ and received their B.A. in Music and Psychology from Wesleyan University. They are interested in pursuing clinical social work with LGBTQ+ youth of color and families from immigrant backgrounds, and currently works at The Attic Youth Center as an advanced year clinical intern. During their undergraduate career, Harim completed their high honors thesis on a study investigating the shared neural correlates of music and language processing in the Music, Imaging, and Neural Dynamics Lab at Wesleyan, and developed an interest in accessible and creative forms of alternative mental healthcare for racially and sexually marginalized communities. Outside of the classroom, they serve as a co-president of QSP2, is a work-study student at The Penn LGBT Center, and enjoys supporting local DIY music. Harim is working with Dr. Hillier on a qualitative interview study investigating best practice around the experience of disclosing gender identity for transgender youth and families.
Claire Fontaine, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Social Policy & Practice of the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in Urban Education from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (2015) and a BA in the College of Letters from Wesleyan University (2002). Claire began her career teaching English through the New York City Teaching Fellows program at an alternative transfer school for overage under-credited students in Brooklyn. In recent years she has worked in the areas of teacher education and coaching, youth development, and college access.
Claire’s research examines the impacts of networked technologies in the lives of diverse children, youth, young adults, and families, and their relevance to educational practice, teachers’ work, and family life. Her work is methodologically eclectic, drawing on participatory visual methods, narrative analysis, and other qualitative techniques; analytically, her work is united by a focus on gender, power, and agency. At the SexGen Policy Lab, she collaborates with Dr. Castro Baker conducting participatory mixed methods research with Coptic Egyptian women and teens in Jersey City, focusing respectively on housing insecurity and digital privacy practices.
Lucy Gleysteen grew up in Lincoln, MA and received their B.A. in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. They are currently pursuing an MSW at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Their work centers on the intersection between health justice, trans liberation, and an end to mass incarceration. They hope to use their MSW to develop trauma informed methods for responding to harm and violence, particularly in the queer and trans community. Prior to attending Penn, they worked at Philadelphia FIGHT for three years where they provided crisis case management and wrote and edited the Philadelphia Reentry Planning Manual, Housing Guide, and AIDS Resource Guide. They are currently a writer and editor for Prison Health News, a quarterly newsletter with a readership of 5,000 individuals about HIV and other health topics related to mass incarceration. Lucy’s second year social work field placement is at the Penn Outpatient Psychiatry Center where they will be providing individual psychotherapy. They are currently working with Dr. Amy Hillier on developing research about the experiences of trans youth talking to their families about gender
Mina Addo is a doctoral student at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She holds an MS in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from The New School and a BA from The University of Michigan. Mina’s career includes more than a decade of experience in various aspects of public policy, including in public institutions, philanthropic organizations and in consulting roles. Prior to her studies at Penn, Mina worked with a New York City-based economic development venture on a redevelopment project designed to support immigrant entrepreneurs in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
Mina's research examines the intersection between economic insecurity and mental health, towards understanding how economic and social policies affect well-being. She is currently collaborating with Dr. Amy Baker on a mixed-methods evaluation of family financial and behavioral outcomes from a social service provider collaborative.
Dr. Hillier and the Policy 252 in the Philadelphia Gay News.
Dr. Castr0 Baker on gender, housing, and mortgage lending for NPR's marketplace.
Anna Wood received her Master in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. She also holds a BA in English Literature from Yale University. She has worked in both the New York City and Saint Louis public school systems as a classroom teacher, and also spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching reproductive health to students grade 6-12 in Aurora, CO public schools. In her graduate coursework, she focused on issues of economic justice while also conducting her fieldwork at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where she supported a number of consumer education and economic empowerment programs. In this position, she also worked with Dr. J. Michael Collins to to research and report on financial coaching programs around the country. Anna currently works as an outreach and research specialist on the CFPB Financial Coaching Initiative and is contracted by the Armed Forces Services Corporation. She is also working with Dr. Castro Baker on a mixed methods project analyzing gendered wealth inequality, housing trouble, and asset depletion.
Rachel Townzen, MSW Candidate, grew up in Lexington, MA and holds a B.A. in applied psychology and human development from Boston College. She has worked in programs serving refugees and asylum-seekers in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Armenia, and Jordan, where she spent a summer interning with UNICEF. As a 2016 student fellow with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, she reported on issues related to identity, trust, and technology for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Rachel’s general research interests include socio-legal studies and the use of data and technology for human rights reporting, humanitarian research, and advocacy. Outside the classroom, she is the president of Social Work Advocates for Immigrant Rights, a member of Penn Law’s International Human Rights Advocates, and is active with the local Armenian community. Rachel is working with Dr. Castro Baker on a study focused on gender, institutional trust and technology access among Syrian refugees.
Henisha Patel, UPenn MSW candidate, was born and raised in Massachusetts and graduated from Boston College where she studied Psychology and Sociology. She is passionate about criminal justice policy reform, and is interested in the intersection of race, class, gender, and mental health with mass incarceration. During her junior year at BC, Henisha completed an internship with the United States Department of Probation and Pretrial Services in Boston, MA in the pretrial services division, where she observed the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing and trauma on justice involvement. She also worked as a Research Intern with the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston, examining issues of overcrowding, segregation, and pretrial detention in American jails and prisons. In her first year at SP2, Henisha studied gender and social policy and worked as a case worker with the Goldring Reentry Initiative conducting reentry planning with adult men transitioning out of the Philadelphia Prison System. Henisha currently works as a Law and Ethics Research Intern with the Treatment Research Institute. She is also working with Dr. Castro Baker on a project determining the housing and lending needs of the LGBTQ community.