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Commencement Speaker Dorothy Roberts Shares Thoughts on Her Work, Rutgers-Newark

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Dorothy Roberts: A Publicly Engaged Scholar

Interdisciplinary scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate Dorothy Roberts addressed nearly 2,000 graduating students and their many thousands more supporters at Rutgers University – Newark’s commencement at the Prudential Center on Wednesday, May 22. Known for her insightful work at the intersection of race, reproductive justice, and social systems, Roberts also is a highly sought after speaker with numerous media appearances to her credit addressing related issues. Her wildly popular TED Talk regarding the misuse of race in medicine has been viewed by more than a million people.

Roberts’ path has taken her from Chicago, where she grew up, to undergraduate study at Yale, and law school at Harvard. After clerking in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York for the Honorable Constance Baker Motley, she joined one of the nation’s most esteemed law firms, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP. But feeling the gravitational pull of having been raised in an academic household, she shifted her career trajectory, landing a faculty position at Rutgers Law School, Newark in 1988. While here, she achieved national renown, publishing a landmark article on black women's reproductive rights in the Harvard Law Review in 1991, which was then under the editorial leadership of future President Barack Obama. She also completed her first book, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, widely acclaimed as one of the most enduringly important books on the topic. After a decade at Rutgers-Newark, she joined the faculty at Northwestern University, then the University of Pennsylvania, where she remains and is the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society.

Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor has called Roberts “one of the nation’s leading voices striving to expunge deeply embedded discriminatory ideas and practices from the American social fabric.”

In a recent interview, Professor Roberts generously shared reflections on her influences and aspirations for the impact of her work.

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