Dorothy E. Roberts
George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology
Challenging assumptions and illuminating injustices is all in a day’s work for the whirlwind that is Dorothy Roberts. Her research catalogues the consequences of racial inequities for women, children, families, and communities—and counters scientific tenets about innate racial identity. Her scholarly achievements, teaching excellence, collegiate involvement, and compassionate advocacy make Roberts an inspirational force across Penn’s campus and beyond. She holds appointments at Penn Arts & Sciences and Penn Law, where she is the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights.
Roberts’ impact is most evident at Penn in the groundbreaking Program on Race, Science and Society. Penn’s unparalleled leadership—and scholars in schools across campus as eager as Roberts to bring fresh perspectives to emerging social justice issues—made Penn the perfect place for the program. After a powerful inaugural colloquium that catalyzed the campus in 2014, Roberts continues to engage with the social and life sciences communities to explore the role of race in scientific research, biotechnological innovations, and health services and outcomes. The program builds on her head-turning critique of race-based genomic science—an argument that racial identity is a social and political invention, not a biological fact coded in DNA.
The program illustrates Roberts’ ability to change national conversations, bring about positive social change, and put research into practice in public service. In earlier work, she connected the dots between racial justice and disparities in foster care. Her award-winning book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty was also foundational to the now widely used concept of “reproductive justice” to advocate for expanded procreative freedoms, including the childbearing rights of women of color. Ms. magazine ranks her work on that topic in its top 100 nonfiction feminist books of all time—an indication, like her super-active Twitter account, of how well she blurs boundaries between academia and popular culture.
Roberts’ current book project is deeply personal—completing her father’s life’s work. His bequest to her was more than 500 interviews he conducted with interracial couples in Chicago between 1937 and 1980. The project dovetails with her research and influential life experiences—from growing up during the Civil Rights Movement to her heritage as a daughter of an interracial marriage.
About the Donor
In 2010, George A. Weiss, W'65, HON'14, together with his wife, Lydia, endowed four Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professorships, adding to his extensive philanthropic legacy of support for Penn's highest priorities.