Unveiling Inequalities: Exploring Vulnerabilities in Community

July 27, 2023

Lora Philips, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology

Lora Phillips has joined the department of Sociology as an Assistant Professor. 

Phillips researches inequality – particularly inequality among vulnerable populations – and how the experiences of inequality matter for the health and well-being of individuals and communities as a whole. She has looked at inequality through the lens of ongoing crisis situations that impact communities. In one paper, she researched the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity.  

“These crisis situations are very unfortunate, but they can be useful case studies for shedding light on existing vulnerabilities that have gone unnoticed,” she said. “It was important to understand who is typically most vulnerable to food insecurity, and understand how a global pandemic, or a situation like it, might reflect existing inequalities or exacerbate them.” 

She has also looked at the role housing plays in mitigating or exacerbating the response to climate change. “Housing is essential for people’s well-being. Are you able to keep cold or heat out? Is the housing stable? This impacts your well-being,” Phillips said. “There is an intersection between housing and health, and the effects of climate change are shedding light on how important housing is for health.” 

Phillips aims to keep her research ‘locally embedded’, focusing on circumstances of the local community, to ensure research undertaken by universities has local relevance and value. In particular, she can apply quantitative skills to provide insights to community members to help them make decisions.  

A recent project was inspired by the high level of evictions witnessed in Maricopa County, Arizona. Phillips’ community partners wanted to better understand the landlords who evicted the most tenants.  There was a sense in the community that non-local landlords – those from out-of-state, or out-of-country – were more likely to be involved in evictions. Using data from eviction courts and from the county records on ownerships, Phillips confirmed this to be the case. 

“This work exemplifies a research question that is both scholarly and locally relevant,” she said.  

In coming to Western, Phillips hopes to be able to connect to the community, to understand the dynamics of what is going on in London, and how her skills be applied to work to with community members to address them.  

“I believe that people are experts in their own lives. I strive not to bring a top-down approach, just because I have a particular degree. I don’t want to assume I know what’s important to people or what’s going on in their lives,” she said. “I believe that research needs to be driven by treating people in the community as equal partners in addressing issues within the community.” 

“I’m extremely thrilled for opportunity to join Western, and specifically the department of Sociology,” Phillips said. “One of the really appealing things about the department is that there is a lot of overlap between my research interests and those of other faulty. I see many fruitful opportunities for potential work together.”