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Dorothy Roberts      

Scholar & Social Justice Advocate

Dorothy Roberts is an acclaimed scholar of race, gender and the law. She 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 also the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights. Additionally, she is the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Society.

An internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate, Roberts 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," “Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare,” “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century," and “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World,” as well as more than 100 articles and book chapters, including “Race” in the 1619 Project book.

Roberts has served on the boards of directors of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Black Women’s Health Imperative, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, and her work has been supported by fellowships from American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Fulbright Program, Harvard Program in Ethics and the Professions, Stanford Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and Northwestern Institute for Policy Research.

Recognitions of her work include her 2022 election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the 2022 Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize; a 2019 Honorary Doctor of Law Degree, Rutgers University-Newark; the 2019 New Voices for Reproductive Justice Voice of Vision Award; the 2017 election to the National Academy of Medicine; a 2016 Society of Family Planning Lifetime Achievement Award; and a 2015 American Psychiatric Association Solomon Carter Fuller Award. Her TEDTalk, “The Problem with Race-Based Medicine,” has over 1.5 million views.

Speech Topics

The Urgency of Reproductive Justice After Dobbs

Since the 1980s, the longstanding devaluation of Black women’s childbearing has supported an expanded criminalization of pregnancy that encompasses fetal protection laws, abortion restrictions, and family policing. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health spotlights the entanglement of these forms of reproductive violence, which Roe v. Wade and the mainstream reproductive rights movement largely ignored. Especially telling is how the Dobbs Court’s recommendation of adoption as a remedy for abortion paints a false picture of both reproductive servitude’s history and the child welfare system’s current operation. Black feminists have developed a reproductive justice framework that includes the human right not to have a child, to have a child, and to raise children in safe, supportive, and sustainable communities—a framework made more urgent than ever by Dobbs.

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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