Associate Professor of Social Work; Associate Dean of Curriculum Innovation and Academic Affairs; Courtesy Appointment in Department of Sociology
Room 809
212-851-2238

Desmond Upton Patton

Associate Professor Desmond Upton Patton examines pathways to violence, both on- and offline, among low-income youth of color.


Associate Professor Desmond Upton Patton’s research uses qualitative and computational data collection methods to examine the relationship between youth and gang violence and social media; how and why violence, grief, and identity are expressed on social media; and the real-world impact these expressions have on well-being for low-income youth of color. He studies the ways in which gang-involved youth conceptualize threats on social media, and the extent to which social media shapes and facilitates youth and gang violence.

Dr. Patton is the founding director of SAFElab, a member of the Data Science Institute, and a faculty affiliate of the Social Intervention Group (SIG). He holds a courtesy appointment in the department of Sociology. He is the recipient of the 2018 Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) and was named a 2017-2018 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

In partnership with the Data Science Institute, he is developing an online tool for detecting aggression in social media posts. Dr. Patton’s research on “internet banging” has been featured in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, NPR, Boston magazine, ABC News, Nature, and Vice. It was cited in an amici curiae brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States, which examined the interpretation of threats on social media.

Before coming to Columbia, Dr. Patton was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and School of Information. He holds a BA in Anthropology and Political Science with honors from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, an MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work, and a PhD in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.