Research Spotlight: Dr. Alex Kenney

Alex Kenney

Dr. Alex Kenney is a Race and Social Justice in Education Research Post-Doctoral Fellow in the GSE’s Department of Educational Psychology. Dr. Kenney is a scholar of race with an exacting focus on the experiences of Black collegians at Historically and Predominantly White Institutions (HPWI). He investigates blatant and surreptitious manifestations of anti-Blackness across individual, institutional, and environmental spheres.

Can you tell us about a new research project you are working on?

I am currently working on a study that examines the experiences of Black collegians off-campus. In specific, I draw upon the anti-black spatial imaginary as an analytic framework to detail how Black bodies are imagined in community spaces that have been built at their exclusion. 
Why did you decide to pursue this research? And what is unique about your approach?
I was inspired to conduct this study while at my previous institution. The community in which the university was situated had a glaring history of anti-black racial terrorism that continued to shape Black life in contemporary settings. Thus, I found it necessary to gain insight into how historical incidences of anti-blackness may impact the racial realities of Black students while traversing off-campus space. This study is unique because while much is known about the experiences of Black students on college and university campuses, a dearth of scholarship has centralized their experiences off-campus. Importantly, this study has the capacity to expand the literature on Black students by presenting a fuller representation Black collegiate life as many students often live, work, and socialize outside of campus boundaries. 
What kind of methodological and theoretical approaches do you use? And why are these important to your work?

For the purposes of this study, I drew upon an intrinsic case study approach given the unique history of racial terrorism in the off-campus community. In particular, the lynching of a Black man occurred in 1901 less than mile from campus and the effects are still palpable. Therefore, this methodical approach is imperative because it allows for a richer contextual understanding of the off-campus environment and serves to set the stage for the study. Moreover, I employed the anti-black spatial imaginary as a theoretical framework to inform the research design and data analysis. This lens pulls from core ideas of Afro-Pessimism such as social death and the afterlife of slavery to suggest that Black bodies continue to be rendered non-human and thus positioned as dissonant outsiders in spaces not meant for them. Such theoretical inquiry nuances scholarly interpretations of racism by acknowledging anti-blackness as a distinct form of racism that cannot be analogized. 
What’s next for you in terms of research, or this project?
In building upon this study, I aim to elucidate how university leaders may better serve Black students by acknowledging the history of racial violence in the off-campus community and identifying sanctuaries such as churches, parks, restaurants, and barbershops/salons that counter the dominant racial climate. In doing so, Black students might be able navigate off-campus space more safely and thus have increased opportunities to foster a sense of belonging.