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, 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 City & Regional Planning at PennDesign and holds a secondary faculty appointment at SP2. She teaches courses on geographic information systems (GIS) mapping for city planning, social work, and urban studies. 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, 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 is working with youth from the Attic, Philadelphia's LGBTQ youth center, to advocate for greater support for transgender students within the Philadelphia public schools.
Kel Kroehle, MSW is the Director of The Bryson Institute of The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ youth center. An Ohio native, they studied Gender Studies and LGBTQ studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before earning their Masters of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. As Director of The Bryson Institute of The Attic Youth Center, they’ve worked with and on behalf LGBTQ youth to facilitate over 500 workshops in the region to develop cultures of respect and support for the LGBTQ community, ultimately reaching over 12,000 teachers, social workers, health care practitioners, juvenile justice and domestic violence workers, and community members. In addition, Kel is a regular Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism, an online feminist magazine with a monthly readership of 4.5 million. They are currently working with Dr. Castro Baker and Dr. Hillier on an exploratory mixed methods study to determine the housing needs of LGBTQ youth.
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.
Dr. Hillier and the Policy 252 in the Philadelphia Gay News.
Dr. Castr0 Baker on gender, housing, and mortgage lending for NPR's marketplace.