SP2 welcomes three new faculty with interdisciplinary expertise
Authored by: Juliana Rosati
Photography by: Mark Stehle; provided
Faculty & Research
Three new faculty have joined Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) as of July 1, 2023. Working at the intersection of social policy and practice and the fields of education, juvenile justice, and environmental politics, the new faculty members listed below will deepen SP2’s expertise in inclusion and racial and economic justice.
“We are thrilled to welcome Drs. DeMarcus Jenkins, Noor Toraif, and Alice Xu — three outstanding scholars and educators whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries to advance some of the most important conversations for our society,” says SP2 Dean Sara S. Bachman. “They are examining how spaces and institutions can be reimagined to address systemic oppression and promote inclusion for individuals and communities.”
Dr. DeMarcus Jenkins joins SP2 as assistant professor, with a primary appointment at SP2, and a secondary appointment at the Annenberg School for Communication. Previously he was assistant professor of education at Penn State College of Education and assistant professor of education policy studies and practice at the University of Arizona College of Education, where he was also an affiliate in the Department of Geography.
Dr. Jenkins’ research focuses on the influence of spatial, social, and political factors that foster and exacerbate inequalities for Black populations, as well as the approaches that school leaders take to disrupt and transform these dynamics.
Dr. Jenkins is an activist and urban scholar whose work considers the intersections of race, space, and policy. His research focuses on the influence of spatial, social, and political factors that foster and exacerbate inequalities for Black populations, as well as the approaches that school leaders take to disrupt and transform these dynamics. His interdisciplinary approach to tackling complex and challenging racial equity problems in schools is informed by Black critical theory, critical spatial theory, Black geographies, critical policy studies, and justice-oriented leadership frameworks. Consistent throughout his research are practical solutions for school leaders and policymakers.
He received a research grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine how urban school systems respond to policy changes that divest and disinvest from law enforcement on school campuses. His research program draws from his previous professional experience working in urban schools as well as in local and state policy and advocacy.
Dr. Jenkins earned his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles in the Division of Urban Schooling. He holds an EdM in English Education from Georgia State University, a master’s degree from American University, and a bachelor’s degree from The University of Michigan, where he double-majored in English and African American studies.
Dr. Noor Toraif joins SP2 as assistant professor. She received her PhD from the Boston University School of Social Work, where she was also a Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Fellow and a Society for Social Work and Research Doctoral Fellow. In her research, Dr. Toraif draws from critical theory and critical phenomenology to understand youth and emerging adults’ experiences in the United States’ child welfare, juvenile, and criminal legal systems. She is especially interested in the experiences of youth of color who cross over from social service settings to the juvenile legal system and during reentry. Her secondary interests include youth participatory action research, the developmental impacts of system involvement, social welfare policy impacting youth and families, and social theory.
In her research, Dr. Toraif draws from critical theory and critical phenomenology to understand youth and emerging adults’ experiences in the United States’ child welfare, juvenile, and criminal legal systems.
Dr. Toraif is currently involved in projects on a number of topics, including the reentry experiences of transition age young adults and Black women with HIV; racial discourse within institutions of higher education in response to police brutality; and young adults’ experiences at the intersection of the child welfare and juvenile legal systems. She earned her MA in child study and human development at Tufts University, specializing in children’s and families’ programs and policies. She graduated from Boston University with a BA in neuroscience and a BA in psychology and philosophy.
Dr. Alice Xu joins SP2 as assistant professor with a primary appointment at SP2, and a secondary appointment in the Political Science Department in the College of Arts and Sciences. Previously a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Leitner Program in Political Economy, she studies the comparative political economy of development with a focus on the politics of inequality and social policy, urban and distributive politics, and climate justice and environmental politics in the Global South.
Dr. Xu’s book project explores how the geographic configuration of cities, with patterns of class- and race-based segregation, shapes urban and distributive politics across cities in Brazil and Mexico. She also has research interests in quantitative and spatial methods for studying inequality.
Dr. Xu’s book project explores how the geographic configuration of cities, with patterns of class- and race-based segregation, shapes urban and distributive politics across cities in Brazil and Mexico. She also has research interests in quantitative and spatial methods for studying inequality. Her research received the American Political Science Association (APSA) Best Paper on Social and Economic Inequality Award (Class and Inequality Section) in 2021 and the APSA Paul A. Sabatier Best Conference Paper Award (Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Section) in 2022. She is also the 2023 recipient of the Susan Clarke Young Scholar Award from the APSA Urban Politics Section.
Dr. Xu received her PhD in Government with distinction from Harvard University in 2023. Prior to starting her PhD, she worked in the energy and environmental markets consulting industry and received a BA in economics-political science and sustainable development from Columbia University.
Sara S. Bachman, PhD
DeMarcus A. Jenkins, PhD
Noor Toraif, PhD, MA
Alice Xu, PhD