In January 2015, SIPA inaugurated a Dean’s Seminar Series on Race and Policy to engage prominent authors, commentators, and academic leaders in an ongoing public seminar about race, injustice, and public policy. The Dean’s Seminar Series is a forum for thoughtful discussion and engagement by the SIPA community and, more broadly, seeks to address challenges related to race and public policy, nationally and globally. Through this series, SIPA strives to foster greater understanding of the complexities of race on public policy formulation and implementation and how to promote greater tolerance and respect among diverse communities and populations.


Upcoming Events


Why Policy Matters: Access, Equity, and Voting in the U.S. October 17 from 6-8pm in IAB 1501

Please join the SIPA Diversity Committee for an exploration of how policy has shaped equity and access to voting across the United States. Our panelists will share four varying perspectives on why policy matters in the enhancement or suppression of voter engagement within their area of work, community, and constituents. Sponsored by the SIPA Diversity Committee as part of the Dean's Seminar Series on Race and Policy. Reception to follow.

Speakers include:
Mayor Michael Nutter, Professor of Practice (Introductions), School of International and Public Affairs
Jonathan Brater, Council, Democracy Program Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Farai Chideya, Program Officer, Ford Foundation
Alex Hertel-Fernandez, Assistant Professor, School of International and Public Affairs
Irene Jor, New York Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies, Demos: An equal say and an equal chance for all

Please visit to register


Past Events

Diversity ‘Dine’alogue with Christina Greer: "Race and Policy in the Current Political Climate" | April 18, 2018

SIPA Diversity: Race and Policy in the Current Political Climate


This "Dine-alogue" was a discussion of politics - past, present, and future. Professor Christina Greer, Visiting Professor of International and Public Affairs, also discussed the 2020 Census and considered questions including: "What is the future of American democracy and the Democratic party?" 

Introductions by Mayor Michael A. Nutter, David N. Dinkins Professor of Professional Practice in Urban and Public Affairs.



Pictured: Profs. Michael Nutter and Christina Greer // photo by Barbara Alper


Diversity ‘Dine’alogue with Vice Provost, Dennis Mitchell: "Race and Policy in Higher Education" | April 11, 2018



On April 11, Dennis Mitchell, Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity at the College of Dental Medicine, joined SIPA students, faculty, and staff for the first Diversity 'Dine'alogue to discuss “Race and Policy in Higher Education”.

Introductions by Mayor Michael A. Nutter, David N. Dinkins Professor of Professional Practice in Urban and Public Affairs at Columbia SIPA.




The Uncertainty of U.S. Immigration Policy - "Where Do We Go From Here?" | December 8, 2016

The Uncertain Future of U.S. Immigration Policy

The forum, co-sponsored by the SIPA Diversity Task Force and SIPA Students of Color (SSOC), brought together leading activists and practitioners to discuss the future of local and national immigration policy and strategies for organizing around the issue following recent U.S. elections.

The panel was moderated by the Hon. Michael Nutter, former Mayor of Philadelphia and current David N. Dinkins Professor of Professional Practice and Co-Chair of the Diversity Task Force at SIPA.

Panelists included:

Pictured (from left): Hon. Michael Nutter, Elora Mukherjee, Albert Fox Cahn, Steven Choi, Aracelis Lucero, Domenic Powell // photo by Barbara Alper

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Ernesto Cortés, Jr. | March 22, 2016

Ernesto Cortés, Jr., Co-Director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), founder of the Alliance Schools strategy, and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, gives a talk on his experiences with the Industrial Areas Foundation, followed by discussion moderated by Professor Rodolfo de la Garza, Eaton Professor of Administrative Law and Municipal Science at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science.

The Industrial Areas Foundation provides leadership training and civics education to poor and moderate-income people in the United States and United Kingdom. Mr. Cortés has also been instrumental in the building of over 30 broad-based organizations whose hallmark is the development and training of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He is the executive director of the 30 organizations of the West / Southwest IAF. Over the years, these organizations have leveraged billions of dollars for poorer communities, including infrastructure improvements in the colonias (areas of Texas which lacked basic drainage systems) in the 80s and 90s, increased public funding to equalize school funding in Texas in the mid-1980s, state funding for workforce development projects equipping underemployed adults with job training options, community level infrastructure, healthcare reform, and housing.

Aided by Cortés’ imagination and skill, the West / Southwest IAF organizations have produced impressive results in the area of job training. Cortés also envisioned and launched the Alliance Schools strategy – a much lauded initiative to engage communities of adults in public education. Identifying and training parent and community leaders to change the culture of their schools, the Alliance Schools have been successful in building a broad base of support for public education, both locally and statewide.

The work of the West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, pioneered by Cortés, has been written about extensively. Cortés has been awarded honorary degrees from Princeton University, Rutgers University, Southern Methodist University, University of Houston and University of St. Edwards in Austin. In addition to being the recipient of the HJ Heinz Award in Public Policy and the MacArthur Genius Award, Cortés has completed multiple fellowships at the JFK School of Government at Harvard and MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (Martin Luther King Jr.). He is a graduate of Texas A & M University.

From Civil Rights to Civil Unrest: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equal Justice Under the Law | October 8, 2015

Viewing of the film "The Trials of Constance Baker Motley" followed by a panel discussion with Dean Merit E. Janow, Joel Motley; son of Judge Constance Baker Motley; Mayor David N. Dinkins; and Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science and Professor of Sociology at Columbia.

At the height of the civil rights movement, Constance Baker Motley joined the NAACP's legal team. The only woman in the group, she left her husband and infant son in New York for weeks at a time to represent the NAACP in Southern courts.

The first female Black lawyer Southern judges and juries had seen, she stunned them by winning case after case--gaining the right for Black students to enter Ole Miss, The University of Georgia, and Clemson College. After the assassination of one of her closest friends, she returned to New York--and went on to become the first Black woman NY State Senator, the first Black woman Manhattan Borough President, and, with the backing of Lyndon Johnson, the first Black woman named to a federal judgeship.

With archival footage and narration in Motley's own voice, "The Trials of Constance Baker Motley" tells the story of a civil rights leader who met prejudice and danger with elegance and humor.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. | October 19, 2015

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., gives a talk on Genealogy, Genetics, and Race. 

Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored seventeen books and created fourteen documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Black in Latin America, and Finding Your Roots, series three of which is currently in production. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award and NAACP Image Award. Having written for such leading publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time, Professor Gates now serves as editor-in-chief of, a daily online magazine, while overseeing the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field. In 2012, The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader, a collection on his writings, was published. Professor Gates’s latest book is Finding Your Roots: The Official Companion to the PBS Series,released by the University of North Carolina Press in 2014.  

The recipient of fifty-four honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Professor Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list in 1997, to Ebony’s Power 150 list in 2009, and to Ebony’s Power 100 list in 2010 and 2012. He earned his B.A. in English Language and Literature, summa cum laude, from Yale University in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge in 1979. Professor Gates has directed the W. E. B. Institute for African and African American Research—now the Hutchins Center—since arriving at Harvard in 1991, and during his first fifteen years on campus, he chaired the Department of Afro-American Studies as it expanded into the Department of African and African American Studies with a full-fledged doctoral program. He also is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and serves on a wide array of boards, including the New York Public Library, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Aspen Institute, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of America, and the Brookings Institution.

Benjamin Jealous | April 1, 2015

Benjamin Jealous Examines Intersection of Technology, Social Policy

Benjamin Todd Jealous, former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gives a talk entitled "At the Intersection of Tech and Social Impact."

Jealous is the former president and CEO of the NAACP. He stepped down from his post at the end of 2013. Ben has been a leader of successful state and local movements to ban the death penalty, outlaw racial profiling, defend voting rights, secure marriage equality, and free multiple wrongfully incarcerated people. Under his leadership, the NAACP grew to be the largest civil rights organization online and on mobile, experienced its first multi-year membership growth in 20 years, and became the largest community-based nonpartisan voter registration operation in the country.

Prior to leading the NAACP, he spent 15 years serving as a journalist and community organizer. While at Mississippi’s Jackson Advocate newspaper, his investigations were credited with exposing corruption at a state penitentiary and proving the innocence of a black farmer who was being framed for arson. A Rhodes Scholar, he has been named to the 40 under 40 lists of both Forbes and Time magazines. He is #1 on’s 2013 list of black leaders under 45.

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Improving Police-Community Relations | February 5, 2015

Dean's Seminar Series on Race and Policy: Improving Police-Community Relations

Dean Merit E. Janow, Mayor David N. Dinkins, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (pictured), and Kadiatou Diallo were key speakers at an event co-sponsored by the Amadou Diallo Foundation (ADF) focusing on the relationship between police and civilians in New York City.

Professor Ester Fuchs moderated a panel featuring Diallo, Dinkins, ADF Board Member Norman Siegel, and ADF Board Member Graham Weatherspoon.

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Patricia J. Williams | January 28, 2015


Patricia J. Williams, noted author and Columbia Law School professor, launches the series on January 28 with a talk entitled “The Death of Contingency: Risk, Race and Rue.”

Williams was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from Wellesley College and a JD from Harvard Law School.

She was a fellow in the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College and has been an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School Law School and its department of women's studies. Williams also worked as a consumer advocate in the office of the City Attorney in Los Angeles.

A member of the State Bar of California and the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Williams has served on the advisory council for the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice of the City University of New York and on the board of governors for the Society of American Law Teachers, among others.

Her publications include Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive SlaveOn Being the Object of PropertyThe Electronic Transformation of Law and And We Are Not Married: A Journal of Musings on Legal Language and the Ideology of Style. In 1993, Harvard University Press published Williams's The Alchemy of Race & Rights to widespread critical acclaim. She is also author of The Rooster's Egg (Harvard, 1995), Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race (Reith Lectures, 1997) (Noonday Press, 1998) and, most recently, Open House: On Family Food, Friends, Piano Lessons and The Search for a Room of My Own (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2004.)

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