Institute for Economic and Racial Equity

Meet Dr. Alexandra Piñeros-Shields, Visiting Professor of the Practice of Racial Equity

Dr. Alexandra Piñeros-Shields

Dr. Alexandra Piñeros-Shields has been a central figure at Heller, teaching the core Diversity, Inclusion and Equity course in the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program for the past six years. Today, we are thrilled to announce that she will be joining the IERE staff as a researcher and professor as part of the Racial Justice x Tech Policy Initiative. “I am really, really excited to have a home at Heller where I can continue to focus the work on racial and economic justice, as I have been doing in the field. This is an opportunity for me to synthesize my applied work of the last 30 years and leverage my knowledge to advance the vision of the Institute."

Dr. Piñeros-Shields had been leading the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) for about five years when she was first asked to teach at Heller. “The MPP program reached out to me…, in large part, because I was in the field, doing the work of creating processes of inclusion across race, class, and faith in our human rights non-profit, as well as creating systems in which those who are directly affected by systems of mass incarceration, both in the immigration detention system and the criminal justice system could step into their power to transform those systems,” Dr. Piñeros-Shields explained.

One of the great joys of her work at Heller has been working with students, “I learned a lot from… being in conversation with students who are also coming to the Heller School with a lot of applied experience and really forward-thinking questions of what the work of justice needs to look like. That's going to inform how I synthesize and make meaning from my years of experience. I don't think we can make meaning in isolation. I am excited about making meaning about my life's work along with students who are also making meaning of their experiences.”

When she came to teach in the MPP program, Dr. Piñeros-Shields was neither a stranger to Heller nor to inclusionary methods of social change, though. She completed the PhD program in 2007, and during her time in the program, focused on learning Participatory Action Research, or PAR. “One of the things that I am grateful for was having the freedom to interrogate how we make knowledge to transform our community in concrete ways. And that freedom allowed me to explore the research paradigm of participatory action research when I was a doctoral student and eventually use it for my dissertation.” Piñeros-Shields further explained, “the central point of PAR is that those who are closest to the social problem being studied should be at the research design and decision-making tables and in particular the development of research questions.”

Because these inclusionary processes are integrated into ECCO’s vision and strategy, the organization has achieved incredible successes, including establishing sanctuary policies in four municipalities across Essex County, MA, and promoting law enforcement accountability by conducting implicit bias trainings for the entire Lynn Police Department as well as securing agreement for the wearing of body cameras. Most recently, ECCO lead a campaign that secured one million dollars of municipal funding to establish an unarmed crises response team so mental health professionals address mental health emergencies instead of armed police. When asked what she most enjoyed about her work with ECCO, Piñeros-Shields stated, “there are very few places in which people who have been victims of our systems of mass incarceration are able to come together to create a vision for their future and then, design and conduct an organizing and advocacy campaign. That is essential to how I understand justice… reimagining the tools we use and how we do our work – not just the end result… The most inspiring part of the work has been to create spaces and systems in which people can step into their power.”

Dr. Piñeros-Shields serves as the Chair of the Board of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and also serves on the Boards of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Philanthropy Massachusetts. Through her appointment as Visiting Professor of the Practice of Racial Equity, Dr. Piñeros Shields will teach courses on diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as on economic inequality and immigration policy. Please join us in welcoming Dr. Piñeros-Shields to the IERE Team!