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Social Justice Policy Initiative

The Social Justice Policy Initiative (SJPI) is a faculty-student collaborative project to engage in policy-oriented and community-based research and advocacy. The SJPI aims to bring sociological and inter-disciplinary research to community-based and advocacy organizations and policy-makers at local, state, national, and global levels. The SJPI is housed in the Sociology Department but also hosts innovative, interdisciplinary collaborations with faculty in Africana Studies, Government, Theatre, and Modern Languages.

Within the Social Justice Policy Initiative, students work with faculty members and external partners, such as community organizations or policymakers, to research pressing social issues and support their programming and policy advocacy. Students and faculty have the opportunity to engage with community organizations, policymakers, schools, and other groups across a wide range of issue-areas, including education, labor markets, housing, immigration, and food justice. The SJPI seeks to break down silos both within and beyond the university to inform pressing social issues.

How to Get Involved

The SJPI engages students in community and policy-engaged research through four streams:

How to get involved
Be a Research Fellow

SJPI Research Fellows are selected through a competitive application process in March/April for the following fall semester. Fellows apply to specific research teams and have the opportunity to renew their fellowship in the spring semester depending on project needs and performance.

Be a Research Affiliate

SJPI Research Affiliates can participate in a research team in various ways. Students interested in becoming a Research Affiliate should contact the Project PI to indicate interest. Research Affiliate applications are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year depending on project needs.

Be an Community Fellow

Community Fellowships allow students to support and learn from community-based organizations. Fellows spend 8-10 hours a week working with a non-profit organization. In addition, community fellowships include an academic component as students conduct research on topics related to the non-profit’s mission and goals. Students receive academic credit for community fellowships. Fellows that support our ongoing community partners are chosen through a competitive application process in March/April for the following fall semester. Other fellowships opportunities are advertised as they become available.

Social Justice Policy Research Courses

These courses engage students in hands-on research related to one of the research teams. Students gain a range of experiences associated with social justice policy-making, which may include collecting and analyzing data, working with community partners, developing policy papers, and presenting research findings. These courses include:

  • SOCL 440 Walk Together, Children: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Addressing Educational Inequities. Instructors: Amy Quark and Omiyemi (Artisia Green) (Theatre and Africana Studies)
  • SOCL100: Economic Insecurity: The Virginia Eviction Crisis. (This course is also part of the Sharpe Program.) Instructor: Caroline Hanley
  • SOCL340: Economic Justice: The Virginia Eviction Crisis. (This course is also part of the Sharpe Program.) Instructor: Caroline Hanley
  • SOCL490: Independent Research. Instructor: Caroline Hanley.
    • Description: In this 1-credit course students will be trained to collect observational data from eviction proceedings at the WJCC Courthouse. You will be expected to conduct 2-3 observation sessions over the course of the semester, and enter your observations into a spreadsheet database. We will meet semi-regularly-- once a week for the first 2 weeks of the semester to complete the training, then about every month thereafter. For each observation period you will need about 1 additional hour of time to enter the data and record any qualitative observations. At the end of the semester we will submit a report of our findings to a local community partner. The goal of the class is to create a flexible, low-commitment, and inclusive opportunity for folks who want to learn more about eviction court and contribute to a community-based social justice research project. No prior knowledge or experience is required. Send an email to Professor Hanley for more information.


SJPI Projects
Meaghan Stiman

Affordable Housing Project
Primary Investigator: [[mlstiman, Meaghan Stiman]]
Summary: Researching how low-income individuals and families make housing choices in a post-public housing era

Community Fellows
Academic Advisor: [[aaquark, Amy Quark]]
Summary: Opportunities to work with community organizations while earning credits.

Educational Equity Project
Primary Investigators: [[aaquark, Amy Quark]] and [[jbmend, Jennifer Bickham-Mendez]]
Summary: A project focused on educational equity in the Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) School District


Eviction Crisis Project
Primary Investigator: [[cehanl, Professor Caroline Hanley]]
Summary: Research to address the eviction crisis in Virginia

The Food Justice Project
Primary Investigators: [[aaquark, Amy Quark]] and Travis Harris
Summary: A set of community-engaged research collaborations and internships focused on food justice.


The Local Black Histories Project
Primary Investigators: [[avgreen, Omiyemi Artisia Green]] and [[aaquark, Amy Quark]]
Summary: The Local Black Histories Project is a community-engaged research partnership involving W&M.