Rethinking the Ivory Tower

Prentiss Dantzler GSC’16 researches the intersection of race and urban housing policy at home and abroad

With an undergraduate diploma in hand, Prentiss Dantzler returned home after years in the Pennsylvania suburbs and grew concerned with what he saw in his West Philadelphia neighborhood. Public housing had been fenced around, doomed for demolition. His father’s home was in foreclosure amid a looming housing crisis. 

“I was increasingly interested in changes within the city and around the region and concerned with how these changes were impacting Black communities,” Dantzler said. 

Dantzler soon enrolled at Rutgers University in Camden, earning a master of science in community development and a doctoral degree in public affairs. Since graduating, he has expanded his own educational practice, where he teaches at the highest levels of academia and conducts research at the nexus of housing policy, urban poverty, race, ethnicity, and community development. 

Dantzler teaches sociology, urban policy, and community development courses as an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Through his instruction, he wants students to learn the causes of social inequalities and imagine an alternative future. He draws upon his experience at Rutgers–Camden, where, as a graduate student, he was immediately impressed by the high-level commitment of faculty to advance change. 

“Given that many of the faculty work in more applied spaces, such as urban inequality, criminal justice, education reform, community-based organizations, and political advocacy, my approach to scholarship has focused on addressing important questions while also suggesting policy recommendations to create meaningful change for those not able to advocate for themselves,” Dantzler said.  

Dantzler recalled a pivotal moment as a grad student that affirmed his academic and professional calling. He was preparing for the course Logic of Social Inquiry in a shared office space with other research assistants. As one of the younger, less experienced students in the program, he was overwhelmed and questioned whether he should continue. As the cohort met to discuss the day’s readings, someone else expressed similar feelings, which elicited a shared relief and resolve among the group.

Prentiss Dantzler GSC’16 (photo courtesy the University of Toronto)

Prentiss Dantzler GSC’16 (photo courtesy the University of Toronto)

Dantzler, at left, speaks at the Canadian Urban Institute’s 2023 Summit on the State of Canada’s Cities (photo courtesy Prentiss Dantzler)

Dantzler, at left, speaks at the Canadian Urban Institute’s 2023 Summit on the State of Canada’s Cities (photo courtesy Prentiss Dantzler)

“I quickly realized that this was what graduate school was all about: working with others to solve problems,” Dantzler said. “This became a common practice for us and was the main reason I continued in the program. My cohort deserves as much praise as the faculty and staff at Rutgers-Camden in shaping my academic journey.” 

Dantzler’s research took on a distinctly Canadian focus when he joined the University of Toronto in 2021. He is leading a mixed-methods study on social housing and neighborhood change in his adopted hometown, working with a team of student researchers to collect data on housing inequality. He explained that Canada, like the United States, is undergoing a housing crisis, with salaries that have not kept up with the cost of living. 

“What is clear is that people in Camden, Philadelphia, and Toronto have housing issues, and those issues are not adequately being solved by state actors and institutions,” Dantzler said. “For me, the values and practices within community development hold opportunities for what’s possible in an increasingly unequal society.”

Dantzler was awarded the 2023 Jane Addams Best Article Award by the American Sociological Association’s Community and Urban Sociology section for his article “The Urban Process Under Racial Capitalism: Race, Anti-Blackness, and Capital Accumulation,” which appeared in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and the City. It is difficult to speak of such inequality without turning an eye to higher education, where, according to a 2020 study, just 3 percent of instruction was led by Black men. Dantzler was inspired by Black mentors while at Rutgers–Camden, and he cited dissertation work from Black scholars at area universities.

“Scholarship is a political project. And many scholars of color embed a political praxis within their work,” Dantzler said. “In many ways, our work is challenging canonical thinking within the field. My career has been, and continues to be, intentionally and unintentionally shaped by a broader community of Black scholars from the past and present.”

Design: Douglas Shelton