Kayla Woods in Stern Plaza

Kayla Woods, '22

April 19, 2022
Senior explores the connection between housing, health, and education inequities

It all starts at home. Where you live can affect your life prospects—and not necessarily for the better.

“Having your zip code determine your education and health outcomes isn’t fair,” said Kayla Woods, ’22. “As a Black woman, I am passionate about equity, particularly as it relates to people of color. Housing is often at the root of other equity issues, so I am exploring housing through my leadership studies and health studies majors and my sociology minor.”

Classes like Education and Equity (LDST 384) and Health and Housing (HS 397) have introduced her to the underlying systemic issues driving much of the inequity, she said.

“Even after neighborhoods were no longer segregated by law, they often remained segregated,” Woods said. “Our public schools reflect what our neighborhoods look like and mirror the inequitable distribution of resources. Similarly, the lack of infrastructure, such as sidewalks, in some neighborhoods affects people’s health by making it more difficult to exercise.” 

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies awarded her a Burrus Fellowship to support her Jepson internship last summer at Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH). The Richmond-area nonprofit combats homelessness by providing permanent housing and wrap-around support services. Woods worked closely with VSH communications officer and Jepson alumna Kate McCarthy, ’20, on social media, grant proposals, and client interviews.

“It was cool to see things I’ve grown passionate about in the classroom play out in real life,” Woods said. “It’s a myth that people become homeless because they don’t work hard. Many systemic factors contribute to homelessness.

“I interviewed a client who owned a farm he loved. But then he got shot trying to save someone and now is wheelchair-bound. He lost everything—his job, home, and farm. I was amazed that he is still able to joke and be there for his family when he could easily be bitter, angry, and frustrated.”

Eager to learn about the impact of housing on education, the native of Wilmington, Del., undertook a Jepson senior honors thesis titled “The Impacts of Segregation and Desegregation Policies on Academic Achievements of Black Students in Delaware Public Schools.” Leadership studies assistant professor Volha Chykina serves as her faculty mentor. 

“I interviewed people who graduated from Delaware public high schools in the ’80s and ’90s when public policies, such as busing, made the schools more integrated,” she said. “I also interviewed people who graduated high school between 2015-20 when many Delaware schools were more segregated because desegregation policies had been scrapped. By analyzing both existing and anecdotal data, I hope to see what effect desegregation versus segregation has had on educational achievement.”

Woods has personal experience with education inequity. She received a scholarship to attend a private high school, where she excelled academically and as a 12-season varsity athlete. Through sports, she maintained connections with teens in her neighborhood and said she saw how different her education was relative to theirs.

Now at the University of Richmond, Woods often lands on the Dean’s List, even while committing 40 hours a week to Women’s Track and Field practice, training, and competitions. The three-year team captain is an A-10 long jump champion and the University’s long jump women’s record holder.

“I discuss issues of inequity with my team and, thanks to my leadership classes, I have the language to talk about these issues,” she said.

After her May graduation, Woods said she plans to continue her work in the housing field and will enroll in the University of Maryland's Master of Community Planning program.