Influencing Public Discourse: Marjorie Pang '17

Engaged Scholars Program and Brown in Washington alumna’s report sheds new light on the distribution of resources to students experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island.
by Susie Pentelow, Communications Coordinator
November 14, 2019

In October, NBC10 reported that over 1,500 students in Rhode Island leave school each day without a consistent home to return to, yet this year, only a few local education agencies (LEAs) applied for federal grants that are earmarked to help students experiencing homelessness. The feature, which aired on Wednesday, October 9, was the result of research from Brown alumna Marjorie Pang '17.

As a junior at Brown, Pang, who was already part of the Engaged Scholars Program, participated in Brown in Washington, a program run by the Swearer Center and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs that allows Brown undergraduates to spend a semester working and studying in the nation’s capital. Pang, an Economics and Public Policy concentrator, spent the semester interning at the National Low Income Housing Coalition in D.C. During her time there, she was struck by the severity of the affordable housing crisis in the United States. She began researching the impact of the lack of affordable housing and in particular, its impact on children and youth. She spoke to staff at Rhode Island Kids Count, HousingWorksRI, and the National Center for Homeless Education, and learned about the McKinney-Vento Act.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MVHAA), a federal law that was legislated in 1987 in Rhode Island, requires that states and local education agencies break down barriers to the enrollment, attendance, participation, and achievements of children and youth experiencing homelessness. However, as Pang researched the act, she found that the implementation often fell short of its mandate.

“This lackluster implementation provided an impetus for me to investigate the reasons for its failure. I decided to focus on Rhode Island as it serves as a case study to better understand the McKinney Vento Act on a national level,” she told the Watson Institute in a recent interview. “This topic really spoke out to me because I feel strongly about providing equal educational opportunities for everyone, regardless of socio-economic background.”

Pang's resulting thesis, "Falling Through the Cracks: Homeless Students in Rhode Island," explored the barriers to MVHAA’s successful implementation. Supported by her thesis advisers, Irene Glasser, research associate in Behavioral and Social Sciences and adjunct lecturer in Anthropology, Anthony Levitas, director of Public Policy and senior fellow in International and Public Affairs, and Margaret Weir, Wilson Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science, Pang interviewed frontline staff and families experiencing homelessness and performed a quantitative analysis of educational outcomes with data from the Rhode Island Department of Education. She found that the state had a pattern of severely under-identifying homeless students, resulting in resources not being properly distributed.

In March 2019, Pang worked with Kristina Brown, a policy analyst at HousingWorksRI, to publish her thesis as a report, part of their Scholar Series at Roger Williams University. The release of the report, which sheds light on systemic failures across the state, resulted in increased attention and publicity around the implementation of MVHAA, placing pressure on the Department of Education to improve their strategy for distributing resources.

“My time at Brown, and especially my time with Brown in Washington, D.C., has made me more attuned to various social issues often faced by marginalized groups,” Pang reflected. “It has shown me how academic research can assist in the formulation and modification of policies that have the potential to impact lives. This motivates me to fight for more social justice.”

Following her time at Brown, Pang studied Economics of Public Policy at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (GSE), receiving her master’s degree in 2019. Her graduate thesis project, which she authored with two others, explored determinants of domestic violence in rural Bangladesh.

Quotes are excerpted with permission from Elise Ryan '21's interview with Marjorie Pang '17, published by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.