Fall 2020 Magazine


Law and Policy Graduate Student Research Spotlight


Renee Mapp, “From Welfare to College Degree: Reducing Aid Recidivism by Increasing Degree Attainment”

Keywords: Aid, Welfare, Critical Race Theory, Degree Attainment, Education, Indigenous, Intersectionality, Oppression, Racial Equity, Recidivism

Law and Policy Grad Student Research Highlight: Renee Mapp and Her “From Welfare to College Degree: Reducing Aid Recidivism by Increasing Degree Attainment” Study

The mission of the Baldy Center is to advance interdisciplinary research on law, legal institutions, and social policy. UB faculty supported by our conference and research grants mentor graduate students as new scholars in law and social policy. We invited one of these students, Renee Mapp, to introduce herself and her developing dissertation research.

Renee Mapp.

Renee Mapp

Renee Mapp, M.S., is the Senior Education Specialist and Program Coordinator for UB Medical Science and Technology Entry Program (Medical STEP), Elite Scholars Program in Jacobs School of Medicine. She also is a Ph.D. Candidate in University at Buffalo’s Educational Leadership Program in Educational Culture, Policy and Society. Mapp’s work intersects law, society, and policy. 

I currently am developing my dissertation research proposal focused on understanding links between degree attainment and reduction in aid recidivism. I am an avid writer and a published author (1). I advocate for educational and social justice on behalf of historically underserved youths and communities throughout New York State in my role with UB’s Medical STEP program, which is an initiative to encourage minority and economically disadvantaged high school students to follow careers in health-related professions. My positionality as an African American and Indigenous Native American, as a first-generation college graduate having earned several degrees, having raised my family as a single parent, and being a former aid recipient myself, aligns with the significance of this study. My goal for this body of research is that it will aid in changing the lens of deficit often utilized throughout scholarly literature about assistance recipients. 

Much of the literature on degree attainment represents this student population (aid recipients) as typically unsuccessful at degree attainment, and it is vitally important that the alternate accounts be included within the discourse. By flipping the narratives, my review and subsequent ethnographic study will contribute to the broader understanding of racial, social, economic, and educational barriers for members of this population who have attended and successfully completed their desired levels of higher education.

Education in American society is widely agreed upon to be the great equalizer. My study aims to examine if earning a degree is a determining factor to getting out of poverty. Specifically, my research asks: To what extent does attending school while on aid help recipients substantially reduce the rates of recidivism, thereby lessening the possibility of returning to poverty and the need for future aid? For purposes of this study, I define aid recipients as persons who have received various forms of governmental supplements (rental and/or food assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, and other forms of safety net aid).

Black, Brown and Indigenous people have experienced multiple layers of vicarious and intergenerational trauma. The literature review on academic attainment for aid recipients may reveal that the racial makeup of this study’s participants includes people who are positioned as African American, Latina/o and Indigenous Natives. As aid/welfare recipients are an underrepresented population of college attendees, they are in many cases also first-generation college goers. Varied data details first-generation students as demonstrating lower rates of college readiness in key academic areas compared to their non-first-generation peers, thereby putting them at a higher risk for non-completion. 

I will unpack the systemic layers of racial inequities and societal stressors that have pigeonholed people into poverty, oppression, and lessened academic achievement while ultimately increasing the need for governmental aid, drawing from two analytical frameworks to scaffold this study: Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality Theory (IT). Building on the existing work of Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman, and stemming from the field of critical legal studies, CRT has been used by scholars as a framework to address racial inequities in educational research and practice (2). IT, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, centers social justice from various social locations and asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression, such as their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers (3). 

Mapp expects to defend her proposal in Fall 2020 and complete her dissertation research by Fall 2021. 

(1) Mapp, Renee. Roses For My Rose. CreateSpace.com, 2013. 2nd edition.

(2) Ladson-Billings, G. (2005). The evolving role of critical race theory in educational scholarship. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 115-119.

(3) Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine. Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, 1989 U. CHI. LEGAL F. 139 (1989).