DegreePh.D. in Public Policy and Sociology
Warren Lowell spoke with undergraduate Khilan Walker about his experience leading a Bass Connections project team for two years. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
Why he got involved in this area of research
I was a social worker before I went back to graduate school. Part of that work took me all over majority-Black neighborhoods in Boston … I started to ask pretty basic questions, like what are the social structures that make schools and homes look so different from neighborhood to neighborhood? I moved to Minneapolis, doing work and interviews with folks in shelters, and it was striking to see the racial disparities in homelessness. It started coming together that this has to be a huge focus of what I’m doing: racial inequality and housing outcomes.
Adrienne Jones is a year above me in the Ph.D. program and had already developed a dissertation plan as I was developing mine. She was leading the project on driver’s license restoration, and we were trying to think of how we could incorporate my interest in housing and gentrification.
This coalescing theme became, how do local governments provide financial or other support to folks who need it? I started leading another project, doing interviews with low-income homeowners in Durham to learn more about the property tax relief program that the county is providing.
Centering the community partners
We have approached this work from a community-based perspective, meaning that the questions are developed in collaboration with our community partners — Adrienne with DEAR [Durham Expunction & Restoration, which aims to restore suspended licenses by waiving unpaid traffic tickets and fines], and me with the Department of Social Services — to help improve the programs that we’re looking at and provide feedback to them.
Professor Gassman-Pines has been helping us think through how we frame the feedback that we give to our community partners.
Leading a team of students
This was the first year that I led my own team, and I think it requires a lot of nimbleness that I’m fortunate to have developed when I was a social worker … I’ve really enjoyed that because I think it’s activating a part of my brain I haven’t used in a few years.
Warren Lowell is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology and Public Policy joint degree program. He studies the causes and consequences of housing insecurity and inequality in housing markets. He was recognized for his outstanding mentorship of students on his Bass Connections project team in 2023, and his team won the 2023 poster competition for “Freedom to Move: Durham Driver’s License Access and the DEAR Program.”