Contributed by the Georgetown University Office of Strategic Communications
A year ago this month, Georgetown established the Racial Justice Institute (RJI), a hub for scholars, activists and thought leaders to work across academic, policy and advocacy spaces and address the structural causes of racial inequity and injustice in the U.S.
Three esteemed scholars representing law, the arts, health, African American studies and public policy have been selected as the founding faculty leaders of this cross-campus, interdisciplinary institute focused on race, equity and action.
“The Institute is university-wide and interdisciplinary—with leadership spanning all three campuses,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Through this effort, we are able to deepen our university’s shared commitment to the values of justice and equity and more fully recognize the contributions and experiences of the Black community—at Georgetown, and around the world—as central to our history and future.”
In working to address its own historical ties to slavery, Georgetown has sought to find ways to transform the systems and institutions that uphold inequities in health, education and opportunity through research and scholarship.
Robin Lenhardt, a legal scholar, Derek M. Griffith, a public health and psychology scholar, and Anita Gonzalez, a theater and performing arts scholar, are directing this work. They will later be joined by a fourth faculty member focused on policy. Learn more about these three scholars, whose leadership is shaping Georgetown’s racial justice efforts.
Robin Lenhardt: The Legal Scholar
Robin Lenhardt is a leading scholar on race, family and citizenship. She joined Georgetown as a law professor in 2020 and teaches constitutional law and a Race, Law and Inequality Seminar.
“My research covers issues of belonging, citizenship and inclusion, and those spheres focus on questions of race and inequality,” she says. “I’m also involved in looking at the systems and structures that undermine belonging and success for families of color.”
Most recently, Lenhardt served as a law professor and faculty director of the Center on Race, Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. Throughout her career, the Harvard Law School graduate clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and worked at a Washington, D.C., law firm, where she defended the University of Michigan in landmark affirmative action cases. She has reviewed civil rights issues at the Department of Justice as part of President Obama’s transition team and is co-editor of a forthcoming book, “Critical Race Judgments: U.S. Opinions on Race and Law.”
Lenhardt first came to the Georgetown Law Center 18 years ago to pursue a fellowship for future law professors, earning an L.L.M. She has taught law ever since at Fordham Law School, Columbia Law School and the University of Chicago Law School. At the RJI, she applies an interdisciplinary approach to deep-seated racial equity challenges and continues to focus on using a family law model to better understand systems of racism and inequality.
“We have the opportunity to marshal resources in a way that really brings this work to the forefront,” Lenhardt says. “I think it can really fortify the kinds of policy interventions that I know many people at Georgetown are equally eager to build out. There have been people doing this kind for work for years at Georgetown, but I think the Racial Justice Institute can be a catalyst for collaborations that are really different from what we’ve been able to do in the past.”
Derek Griffith: The Public Health and Psychology Scholar
Derek Griffith is a professor of health systems administration at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies with a secondary appointment in oncology. He founded and directs the Center for Men’s Health Equity in the Racial Justice Institute, which conducts research in men’s health and health equity to achieve well-being and social justice for men, and he is a member of the Cancer Control and Prevention Program in the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Griffith, a renowned scholar whose work has been funded by the American Cancer Society, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and others, uses his expertise in psychology and public health to promote men’s health, well-being and health justice more broadly. He examines the impact of structural racism on racial, ethnic and gender inequities in health, and develops and tests medicine interventions to prevent and control obesity and chronic diseases in African American and Latino men.
“I’m primarily interested in refining how we understand the factors that create and maintain health inequities and how we actually achieve health justice,” he says. “How do we actually intervene to improve lives—the health and well-being of populations—not just document how bad it is?”
Griffith previously served as a professor of medicine, health and society as well as founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University. In co-leading the Racial Justice Institute, Griffith is enthusiastic about bringing together multiple perspectives to address structural racism.
“With the four anchoring areas of health, law, the arts and public policy, we’re able to systematically consider how racism and other societal structures, like gender, culture and ethnicity, affect health and well-being,” he says. “We have the depth and breadth of expertise to address issues from a much more holistic standpoint than many others do, and the time and explicit charge to do so.”
Anita Gonzalez: The Theater and Performing Arts Scholar
Anita Gonzalez is a professor in the performing arts and African American studies departments in Georgetown College. For more than 20 years, she has developed programming and curriculum in higher education to promote the global arts, learning and interdisciplinary research.
“I call the work that I do ‘theater as cultural exchange,’ and it’s expanded more recently to think about storytelling and its impact on narratives,” Gonzalez explains. “I’m interested in dialogic performance, the way that people perform each other as they try to develop their identities.”
Most recently, Gonzalez served as a professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and associate dean of faculty affairs at the University of Michigan. Gonzalez holds a Ph.D. in theater and performance studies and has completed three international Fulbright awards. She’s led cultural exchanges in Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and has written a book about Black performance theory. Gonzalez’s stagings of historical and cross-cultural experiences have appeared on PBS, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors and Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre.
“The arts provide representation and visibility for disenfranchised populations,” Gonzalez says. “Communities fighting for racial justice use the arts to humanize their experiences and tell stories of their struggle and resilience, which is important because it activates, creating empathy for those with differing life experiences.”
At Georgetown, she directs, devises and writes operas and musicals in addition to educating students. In her role leading the RJI, she examines racial justice through a multidisciplinary lens.
“Georgetown sits in the nation’s capital close to policymakers who could actually affect change within our polarized, racialized domestic landscape,” says Gonzalez. “I’ve enjoyed interacting with faculty members who are working for racial justice through a variety of disciplinary perspectives so we can create impact in multiple arenas.”
Learn more about Georgetown’s Racial Justice Institute and its ongoing work on race, equity and action.