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Heller School Professor Lisa Dodson fights poverty

By Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: News

January 23, 2015

Heller School Professor Lisa Dodson is an accomplished writer, researcher and educator who has made significant contributions to the study of poverty and the lives of those living in poverty. She focuses on the role of race, class and gender in poverty. Her most recent published work, “We Don’t Fight Poverty Anymore,” an article for the website The Conversation, looks at the role of government programs in American society. She writes about the development of social programs and safety nets during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency and the years following it, but says, “50 years later, we don’t fight poverty anymore.”

In “We Don’t Fight Poverty Anymore,” Dodson looks at the effects of poverty on families and children and the various steps society has taken to provide safety nets for Americans who need them. She examines the connections between race and poverty, noting that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by poverty. Much of her article focuses on the changes in government policies and programs between the time of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the present. Referring to wage responsibility as “the elephant in the room,” Dodson says that the United States has enough resources to conquer poverty.

As a senior scientist and senior lecturer for the Heller School, Dodson is able to teach graduate students while continuing research on low-wage jobs and related subjects. In addition to her work at the Heller School’s Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, she is a professor of sociology at Boston College. She has presented findings from her research to Congress and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as several other organizations.

Dodson’s career has taken her from being an OB-GYN nurse to being a Policy Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Public Policy Institute. She earned her Ph.D. in Social Research and Public Policy at the Heller School in 1993. Dodson’s accomplishments include numerous awards, fellowships and grants. Her book “The Moral Underground” won the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Grant in 2010.

Professor Dodson’s diverse experiences are inspired in part by her upbringing. She says that her family saw great importance in the concept of social responsibility. Her research involved direct contact with people struggling to make ends meet with low incomes and the organizations that aim to provide them aid. Though this is often a rewarding and uplifting experience, it can be frustrating. She said, in an interview with The Hoot, “What is frustrating is that I have been at this a long time and right now there is a larger percentage of children living poor in America than there was when I started out.”

Dodson wrote “The Moral Underground” after hearing of a repeated theme of fairness and unfairness in American society from the people she works with. She found that many Americans were taking risks to help others. Dodson described her findings, saying “I began to hear this theme of people who were not themselves poor but they … object to the fact that so many people live poor in this country when it’s such a wealthy country. They were very concerned and felt it was essentially unfair.”

In 1981, Dodson founded the Division of Women’s Health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She served as the director of the Division until 1989. During her time as director, Dodson was awarded the first Massachusetts Women’s Health Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to women’s health. Of her time at the Division of Women’s Health, Dodson says, “That was a period when we actually were able to get something done … we really had a vision of women’s health as not only maternal health but also women and issues of inequality.”

Professor Dodson’s contributions to her field and to the lives of many in her community are a testament to her hard work and view of the importance of social responsibility. She represents many of the principles of both the Heller School and Brandeis University and is of tremendous value to the community she serves.

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