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Dorothy Roberts      

Scholar, Social Justice Advocate

Dorothy Roberts is the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor and George A. Weiss University Professor of Law & Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology and the Law School, where she is the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights. She is also the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Society. An internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate, she has written and lectured extensively on race, gender, and class inequities in U.S. institutions and has been a leader in transforming public thinking and policy on reproductive freedom, child welfare, and bioethics. She is the author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997/Vintage, 2017), Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2001), and Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century (The New Press, 2011), as well as co-editor of six books. She has also published more than 100articles and essays in books and scholarly journals, including the 2019 Foreword to Harvard Law Review’s Supreme Court issue, “Abolition Constitutionalism.”

Roberts’s research has been supported by fellowships from American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Brocher Foundation, Harvard University Program in Ethics and the Professions, Stanford Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Northwestern Institute for Policy Research, and the Fulbright Program. She has served on the boards of directors of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and on the advisory boards of the Center for Genetics and Society, Generations Ahead, and Still She Rises. Recent recognitions of her work include 2019 New Voices for Reproductive Justice Voice of Vision Award;2019 Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rutgers University-Newark; 2017 election to the National Academy of Medicine; 2016 Tanner Lectures on Human Values; 2016 Society of Family Planning Lifetime Achievement Award; 2016 Harvard Women’s Law Association “Women Inspiring Change;”2015 American Psychiatric Association Solomon Carter Fuller Award; and 2011 election as a Hastings Center Fellow. Her TED Talk, “The Problem with Race-Based Medicine,” has more than one million views. Roberts is currently writing a book on abolishing the family policing system.

Speech Topics

Mistreating Health Inequities in the Genomic Age

Doctors and biomedical researchers in the United States have long defined disease and treated patients according to race. Although the map of the human genome confirmed that race is not written in our genes, we are witnessing the re-creation of race in biological terms using cutting-edge genomic science and biotechnologies, such as race-specific medicines and ancestry tests, that incorporate false assumptions about racial difference. Although genetics can help find cures for common diseases, such as cancer, the genetic concept of race misunderstands the nature of human difference and masks the devastating impact of racism on our bodies and society. Instead, good medicine and health justice require affirming our common humanity by working to end social inequities supported by the political system of race.


Is It Time To Stop Using Race In Medical Research?
Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development, such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races, which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.

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