young homeless boy holding a cardboard house

Associate Professor Challenging the Lens Through Which We Interpret Poverty

By: Simone Rousseau on

UCF Sociology Associate Professor Amy Donley ’02 ’04MA ’08PhD is committed to understanding and exposing social inequalities and the impact they have on those in poverty.

In the midst of COVID-19, Donley is assisting in the coordination of relief efforts coming out of the Homeless Services Network. The network aims to combat homelessness through funding programs and providing direct crisis recovery for agencies across Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties

“Local agencies serving homeless individuals and families have quickly instituted major changes to ensure that everyone stays healthy,” she says. “HSN is coordinating efforts across agencies. It has been a major undertaking and the work that these agencies have done is commendable.’

Donley has also turned her research towards understanding the impact of unemployment and furloughs prompted by COVID-19. Donley and her students are conducting a real-time online survey of hospitality industry workers who have been directly impacted.

“Our hope it to shine a light on the impact this is having on the people who make up a major employment sector in our community so that people feel heard and considered rather than just a statistic,” says Donley.

Seeking to understand the quality of life and sociological tendencies of homeless and impoverished communities does not end with her research. Donley has a hand in many of the local agencies that have a direct impact on the wellbeing of these individuals

“I think it is important that we examine the structural reasons why so many people live in poverty or experience homelessness,” says Donley. “Being poor or homeless is a condition, not a personality trait.”

Donley believes solutions are also found working with community partners, which is one reason she directs the Institute for Social and Behavioral Science at UCF. It produces research about an array of subjects within the social and behavioral sciences, particularly via collaboration with non-profit and government agencies.

She also serves on the board of directors for the Coalition for the Homeless where she is able to communicate what she knows and can draw direct information for her research.

UCF Sociology Associate Professor Amy Donley ’02 ’04MA ’08PhD

Over the past several years Donley has mentored countless graduate students and played a role in plugging them into opportunities to pursue research within the community and beyond. In her role as internship coordinator within the Department of Sociology she helps students find positions with community agencies. She says it is important to show students how to hone their research skills and never stop stretching themselves through experience, especially outside of the classroom.

“I am inspired by my students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are passionate about the same things I am and that work diligently to produce quality research,” she says.

Donley graduated with a doctorate degree in sociology from UCF and has worked at the university since 2011. She became an associate professor position in Fall 2013. Several of her publications have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Social Distress. She also co-authored the book The Homeless, with Professor Emeritus of sociology James Wright in 2011.

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