About the Initiative
The Penn SP2 Initiative on Culture, Society, & Critical Policy Studies is a research initiative of the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania . The focus of the initiative is on the critical inquiry of power, governmentality, and their methodologies. The initiative produces and supports scholarship that works critically between the calculation of policy and the incalculable possibilities of justice. With a focus on the enumerating acts of governmentality in computational culture, the initiative is also a major intellectual hub at Penn for works on digital cultural studies and the critical analysis of data analytics for power and critical interventions.

The initiative promotes scholarship that is informed by critical theory (broadly conceived) and conducts (new) materialist analyses of the ways in which policy is enabling and constraining, forming and shaping bodies, places, spaces, and power relations in society. As a cultural studies initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, the initiative is made up of faculty from the several different schools across campus and hosts a regular workshop series where faculty and graduate students are invited to read text together, present new or developing work, or participate in the discussion of invited lectures from preeminent critical scholars. The initiative seeks to produce new and innovative scholarship on critical methodologies and policy studies via peer-reviewed research publications, policy reports, a speaker series on “Control Societies: Technocratic Forces and Ontologies of Difference”, and training via postdoc fellows and PhD students.
  
Researchers & Staff
  
Ezekiel Dixon-Román 
  
Director
​ezekield@sp2.upenn.edu
Ezekiel Dixon-Román is an Associate Professor of Social Policy in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. He also has secondary appointments in the Graduate School of Education and the Department of Africana Studies and is an affiliated faculty member in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Warren Center for Network and Data Sciences. Dr. Dixon-Román is also chair of the SP2 data analytics for social policy certificate program, director of the SP2-Aliadas en Cadena Initiative, and is the appointed chair of the University Council Committee for Diversity and Equity. He is also an invited institute associate of the Taos Institute, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to the development of social constructionist theory and practices for purposes of world benefit.
     His research interests are on the cultural studies of education, quantification, and social policy. He maintains a program of research that philosophically rethinks and reconceptualizes the use of quantitative methods from a critical theoretical lens (broadly conceived), particularly for the study of social reproduction in human learning and development. Dr. Dixon-Román has published in leading social science and education journals such as The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social ScienceTransforming AnthropologyUrban Education, and Teachers College Record. Dr. Dixon-Román co-edited Thinking Comprehensively About Education: Spaces of Educative Possibility and Their Implications for Public Policy (Routledge) and “Alternative Ontologies of Number: Rethinking the Quantitative in Computational Culture” (Cultural Studies-Critical Methodologies).  
     In his forthcoming book, Inheriting ImPossibility (with University of Minnesota Press), Dr. Dixon-Román builds on new materialists thought to rethink and reconceptualize social science methods of quantification and theories of social reproduction in education. The book empirically demonstrates how parenting practices and grandchild SAT performance are both a result of myriad forces that are multigenerational, events, and material phenomena, and cannot be reduced to pathology or deficiency but rather convey the inheritance of reconfiguring and enfolding historialities of differential patterns of possibility.
     He has also received research grant support from institutions such as the Law School Admissions Council, Educational Testing Service, the American Educational Research Association, and the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. He has presented at numerous professional conferences and workshops including the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Religion. Additionally, Dr. Dixon-Román was an appointed member of The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education.
Arlene Fernández
Graduate Assistant
arlenecfernandez@gmail.com
Arlene Fernández is a Master of Social Work student at SP2 with a macro concentration. She is currently working with colleagues on a collective project exploring the possibilities of “hope.” She is also working on a documentary film project about Bartram High School in southwest Philadelphia; the documentary will serve as an extended version of a short film recently completed in collaboration with the Bartram community, Penn GSE, and the School District of Philadelphia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cf8OrvtwvN8. Arlene is a Research Fellow for the SP2 Venezuela Initiative, a program in partnership with an NGO in Venezuela that provides ICT training for low-income women. Prior to entering the MSW program at SP2, she worked at Penn advising undergraduate students in a service learning and research program at Civic House. Arlene received her B.A. in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins, Ph.D.
Vice Provost Postdoctoral Fellow
​kje@upenn.edu
Dr. Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins is a dynamic speaker, author, and scholar who serves as a Vice-Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Jenkins’s unique intellectual intersections have allowed him to teach courses in Sociology, Public Health, Education, African-American Studies, Nursing, and Social Policy programs. This two-time national journalism award winner examines the influence of race, racism, and law within medicine. Using Critical Race Theory, Jenkins is currently working on three book projects: (1) Hue Process: The Quantitative Measurement of Racism in Medicine, (2) Refund My Freedom: How the Law Created Health Inequity in the Black Community, and (3) Branding Jezebel: Black Women, Law, and Medicine in Antebellum America.
     In addition to the book projects, Jenkins is currently completing manuscripts for peer-review that focus on how the dissonance between self-identified and observed race predicts bias within health and healthcare. He also serves as the lead evaluator for the University of Pennsylvania’s health professions school pipeline program inventory, which is funded by the Office of the Provost and the Perelman School of Medicine’s Office of Inclusion & Diversity. Dr. Jenkins directs the Interpreting Attitudes towards Minorities in Medicine (I AM) Research Group. This group of graduate and undergraduate students is focused on probing, presenting, and publishing health equity centered research.
     Dr. Jenkins received his bachelor’s degree in History with a concentration in Media Communication from North Carolina Central University, master’s in History from Florida A&M University, and doctorate from the University of Florida in Sociology and Criminology & Law. Before the journey to his doctorate degree, Jenkins is credited and renowned for expanding the title of public speaker as the Public Address Announcer for North Carolina Central University (1999-2007) and the On-Field Announcer for the Triple-A Affiliate for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Durham Bulls in Durham, North Carolina (2000-2007).  He was the first announcer to host the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s (CIAA) Super Saturday entertaining crowds of 20,000 for six consecutive years (2000-2006).  He was also the first weekend host of the North Carolina Educational Lottery (2006-2007). He also served as a writer for The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC starting at the age of 16 and later became a columnist for the Herald-Sun in Durham, NC in 2005.
     Dr. Jenkins takes critical steps to better his community with a passion for people and love for knowledge. Jenkins served on the North Carolina initiative to close the academic achievement gap among Black and Brown youth. He also developed a thought-provoking youth curriculum for North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction. High-powered companies, such as McDonalds and ProQuest, invited Dr. Jenkins as a keynote speaker for state and global events. As an activist, he has led rallies for a litany of social justice issues that adversely impact minority communities. Dr. Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins is a blue-collar academician who is one of America’s emerging voices. 
Ama Nyame-Mensah
PhD Student
amanyame@upenn.edu
Ama Nyame-Mensah is a Ph.D. student in Social Welfare at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2). Her research interests include structures and policies that produce group-based disparities in education, wealth, and income; the impact of experiential learning activities on student outcomes; and the use of empirical research methods to address social problems. Ama is currently working on a project with her advisor, Dr. Dixon-Román, that examines whether health resources, conditions, and practices mediate the effects of multigenerational inequality on group-based (e.g., race, gender) differences in reading achievement.
     Before entering SP2’s Ph.D. program in Social Welfare, Ama worked as a research staff member at the Computing Research Association’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline. There, her research focused on understanding the benefits of undergraduate research experiences on the academic and professional aspirations of students from racial and ethnic minority groups. She holds a master’s degree in urban affairs and public policy and bachelor’s degree in economics, both from the University of Delaware.
  
Melissa Beatriz Skolnick 
  
PhD Student
mskol@upenn.edu
Melissa Beatriz Skolnick is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia storyteller, who uses these platforms to bring awareness to social justice and human rights issues that are often ignored. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Delaware. Since 2010, she has been working with nonprofits and arts organizations throughout Philadelphia, while using a range of tools for community building and storytelling.
 
More recently, she served as the Creative Consultant for the  SP2 Penn Top 10 Social Justice & Policy Issues for the 2016 Presidential Election . Her latest short film,  The Engine of My Life , was produced with Media Mobilizing Project and focuses on immigrant rights. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2), and is interested in the intersection of social justice policy, visual ethnography, and the arts.

Jeffrey Sharlein
PhD Student
jsharl@upenn.edu
Jeffrey Sharlein is a doctoral candidate in the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice. His research and teaching interests include juvenile law-breaking, juvenile and criminal justice, poverty and inequality, neighborhoods/communities, and social welfare policy, and he has received external foundation support for his research. Prior to entering the PhD program, Jeffrey practiced social work with youth and families in school-based and justice system-related settings. He received his Master of Social Work from CUNY Hunter College’s School of Social Work (now the Silberman School of Social Work) and his Bachelor of Arts in English from Wesleyan University.
Kat York
Research Associate
kyork@upenn.edu
Kat York graduated from Grinnell College in 2009 where she studied History and Studio Art. In 2015 she completed her Master's Degree in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy, focusing on research and policy. Over the last five years, she has worked in schools and educational nonprofit organizations in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Portland. She currently works for the University of Pennsylvania's Upward Bound Program supporting students in four West Philadelphia high schools as they develop post-secondary educational plans. She also currently works for the Next Stop: Democracy! Project, using public art to re-instill joy in the voting process and increase civic engagement. She is interested in space-based interventions in public education, civic spaces and neighborhood-level antipoverty initiatives.