A Researcher Profile on Jordan Mickens

By Emma Garcia

Before beginning his work as a PhD graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Jordan Mickens worked within Public Education, as both a high school teacher and as internet access support for public schools across the country. Mickens also worked within local government at the Office of the Oakland Mayor where he led a campaign to “close the digital divide for all students in need in Oakland.” Jordan’s research focuses primarily on spreading awareness of poverty, social mobility, and inequality as well as supporting organizations that aim to increase equity across several fields.

In November of 2023, Jordan Mickens began a research project titled The Psychology of Welfare: How Group Identity and Policy Delivery Mechanism Influence Support for Redistributive Social Policy. The project examines how the federal government distributes funds for economic programs concerning the wealthy (“wealthfare”) in comparison to the poor (“welfare”). Micken’s states “while ‘wealthfare’ policies are generally delivered through the tax system, many of the policies Americans consider ‘welfare’ come in the form of cash-based direct expenditures”, and this division has deeply meaningful consequences. According to recent work from the lab Micken’s research is conducted at, “advantaged group members misperceive redistribution as more harmful to them than it actually is”. The current goal for this project is to better understand how identity can predict whether policies designed to “downwardly distribute economic resources” will be supported or opposed.

What inspired you to conduct the type of DEI research that you do?

Throughout my life, I have questioned whether I should have a voice in conversations about prejudice reduction and whether there are aspects of my identity or privileges that make me uniquely effective or ineffective to address bias and prompt behavior change in intergroup contexts. I was born to a single mother and adopted by the man she married in 1994. My adoptive father is Black, so, as a white man, I was raised by a white mother, Black father, and grew up with Black and Biracial siblings. The experiences I’ve had growing up as a white man in a multi-racial household–where no one else experiences my intersection of privileges–have culminated in my desire to be at a research-based institution, working to expand on the extant intergroup interaction literature that addresses bias confrontations and applying that work to organizational and policy-relevant interventions. Every day with my family is an education in interracial contact, and it is my family that inspires my commitment to research in this field. This work started for me, though informally, when I became cognizant of my race and privilege at age ten: when I learned what it meant to have a Black father and the unequal treatment of my family members outside of our home became hyper salient. I’ve learned that my relative comfort in the world is not one that the rest of my family is fortunate enough to experience and the reality of my whiteness means I don’t experience the biases or disadvantages that accompany Blackness in America more broadly. I am excited to use what I’ve learned, through my formal Psychological and Policy education, tangible experience in public education and policy-making, and through my experiences growing up white in a multi-racial household, as a basis for empirically studying issues of race and bias within an intergroup context, working to increase acceptance of equity-enhancing policies and improving outcomes for people who look like my family.

How have findings from your research in the past influenced your own perspectives and leadership approach?

As a teacher, I quickly learned there was a limit to the support I could provide my students from within my four walls; there were systemic barriers to equity that my students faced before they ever walked in the door. And while working in local government during a time of crisis response, I learned the value and power of policy to address issues of systemic harm and injustice. In trying to close the digital divide for students in Oakland during the start of the pandemic, I learned that COVID-19 did not create inequality: it exacerbated the inequalities that already existed. I learned that systemic disinvestment in communities of color and histories of redlining in Oakland correlated strongly with the lack of internet access experienced by students from low-income backgrounds today. And I learned quickly that those most affected by inequity are those most needed at the table to design and implement solutions. To be an effective leader, it is imperative that we center lived experience, search for the truth, and work toward systemic solutions rather than band-aid fixes.

Who is a notable Equity Fluent Leader who inspires you? What are the traits that make them such an effective leader?

Dr. Ruha Benjamin (Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University; founder of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab). A mentor of mine introduced me to Dr. Benjamin’s research before I started working for the Oakland Mayor’s office in 2020. I was about to become the manager of an initiative to close the digital divide for students in Oakland and I read Dr. Benjamin’s book, “Race After Technology,” which chronicled the ways in which racism is embedded within our technological ecosystem and how to dismantle white supremacy from the technology we’ve come to rely on. Dr. Benjamin inspires her colleagues and students–especially in the world of academia–to not just name the problems or describe the world as we see it, but also to name the world in which we can imagine and strive for. With an infectious–but grounded–optimism, when you read her words or hear her speak, you leave wanting to imbed justice into every aspect of your work. In her most recent book, “Viral Justice,” Dr. Benjamin centers love and vulnerability, sharing personal experiences to inspire a vision that small actions can lead to systemic change.



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