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Unified for Social Justice

CMU is committed to social justice, and to deploying time, energy, and resources to social justice causes and reforms at the university, as well as in the Pittsburgh community and the nation as a whole.

Heinz College students and faculty have voiced enthusiastic support for programming and curricular opportunities that elevate attention on issues related to criminology and criminal justice, labor discrimination, health and environmental inequities, and many other disparities that have a disproportionate negative impact on minority populations in the United States.

This summer, Heinz College appointed a Social Justice Committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff representatives to envision and design programs, utilizing the College’s relevant scholarship to shape national discourse and policy action. The Committee’s work is ongoing, though we are excited to announce immediately several upcoming events that will engage our community on these crucial topics.

We will continually announce dates for future events. We hope that you will plan to take part. 


The first of these upcoming events is a two-part series entitled “Reimagining Public Safety”. This series will convene experts including prominent national journalists, organizers, activists, scholars, and officials from government and law enforcement for conversations about challenging historical and current problems pertaining to police reform. These discussions will be open to the CMU community as well as the public.

STUDENT discussion sessions

Reimagining Public Safety Student Discussion Sessions

The Student Discussion Sessions will take place on Wednesdays at 6:30pm ET following the Friday programming as part of the Heinz Reimagining Public Safety Series.

These student-led discussion sessions will focus deeper into issues discussed in the programming on the preceding Friday, give students a venue to highlight and reflect on key topics that were discussed, point out issues or points of view that may not have been discussed, and participate in an open, safe, and inclusive conversation. Ideally, what comes out of these sessions is both a better understanding of the issues discussed, recommendations on future programming Heinz should be organizing, as well as a list of coursework and capstone projects that can be created next semester to build on the current programs. These sessions will also help identify students who may be interested in participating in future Heinz programming on these topics. Students from any department or college are welcome to attend. 

These sessions are student-led and focused on having an open and safe environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions and discussing potentially difficult topics. 

These sessions are for CMU Students ONLY.

Nov. 4th, 6:30pm-7:30pm
Student Discussion:  The Police and Community Perspectives
Discussion of the critical issue of rebuilding trust between the police and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Nov. 18, 6:30pm-7:30pm
Student Discussion: Alternative Ideas for Fundamental Change
Discussion of necessary reforms for reinventing public safety in America.


In the spring 2021 semester, Heinz College will be hosting a social justice speaker series in collaboration with Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) and Professor Joe Trotter, Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice at CMU and the founder and director of the CAUSE.

Speaker Series: African Americans, Health, and Policing during the Age of the Corona Virus: Historical and Contemporary Policy Perspectives

During these challenging times in African American and U. S. history, the Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy are pleased to announce a virtual speaker’s series on racial disparities in American policing and health care systems. Along with many colleges and universities across the country, Carnegie Mellon University has pledged to help eradicate “systemic racism” from all facets of the nation’s institutions within and beyond academia. Most immediately, however, there is a preponderance of interest in understanding and dismantling racialized policing and health care systems. These institutions place African Americans and other people of color at the center of both state violence against citizens as well as the destructive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic among other health hazards.

As part of Carnegie Mellon’s larger efforts to address these challenges, CAUSE (housed in the Department of History, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences) and Heinz College are embarking upon a series of collaborative programs designed to deepen our understanding of the historical and contemporary policy dimensions of persistent class and racial inequality in American society. This collaborative speakers’ series, “African Americans, Health, and Policing during the Age of the Corona Virus,” will include five public lectures (three on health disparities and two on discriminatory and violent policing) and two public forums. Designed to “take stock of lessons learned” through attendance and engagement with the speakers in the lecture series, the first public forum will take place the following week after the third speaker on health inequities and the second forum will convene the week after the second talk on policing.

Vanessa Gamble Vanessa Northington Gamble: Exploring Connections between the Current Impact of Covid-19 and Past Epidemics and Pandemics in African American and U.S. History.

Friday, January 22, 2021 - 4:30-6:30pm ET

View Recorded Session

At the Fault Lines of Racial Inequities: African Americans, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, and COVID-19
When the 1918 influenza pandemic hit the United States, it exposed stark racial inequities that shaped the history of African Americans and the epidemic. At the time, Black Americans suffered from poor health status and premature death. Jim Crow reduced the number of health care facilities open to African Americans seeking medical care and limited avenues for Black health professionals to provide care. Racist medical theories conceptualized Black bodies as innately different or inferior to White bodies. This presentation will discuss the impact of these inequalities on African Americans’ experiences of and responses to the 1918 influenza pandemic. It will also provide historical context for understanding the racial dimensions of COVID-19. As the disproportionate impact of this disease on African Americans makes plain, epidemics continue to lay bare racial inequities in the United States.


Alondra Nelson Alondra Nelson: Contemporary Movements to Combat the Racial Disparities of Covid-19 Compared to Past Efforts to Address Epidemics and Pandemics in the United States.

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

(This session was not not recorded.)



Aishah Scott Aishah Scott: The Aids Epidemic in Black America: Lessons for Deepening Our Understanding of the Racial Impact of Covid-19.

Friday, March 19, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

View the Recording

My book manuscript, entitled “Respectability Can’t Save You: The AIDS Epidemic in Black America,” focuses on the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on the Black community and the role of “respectability politics”, or moral policing, on its leadership during this period. My work addresses how several forces shaped the national, local, and community responses—or lack thereof—toward the African American HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in New York City. These forces include: the influence of the Black Church, the impact of respectability politics from federal and local government, class dynamics and gender relations. This work also examines the parallels and differences between the way Black and Latinx communities disproportionately experienced the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Additionally, I will explore how systemic socioeconomic disparities that left Black and Latinx communities vulnerable to HIV/AIDS also leave them vulnerable to disproportionate impact from COVID-19.


Public Forum Taking Stock: Lessons Learned from Historical and Contemporary Policy Perspectives on Health Disparities,” Co-Moderated by a Faculty Member from the Heinz College and the Department of History, Dietrich College (TBA).
Friday, March 26, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm
(This session was not not recorded.)



Michael Fortner Michael Fortner: Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment and its Contemporary Policy Implications.

Friday, April 9, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

View the Recording

This session will trace the evolution of African American crime politics from the 1970s until today. We will discuss the tension between segments of Black communities that embrace policing and those that seek its abolition and conclude by discussing the policy implications of this conflict.


Simon Balto Simon Balto: Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.

Friday, April 30, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

RSVP to Attend

As the summer of 2020 demonstrated, the crisis of racist policing in the United States continues apace, as do long and ongoing struggles against it. While most of the press coverage of the present crisis and the movement against it treat these twinned phenomena as new and seemingly out of nowhere, both have long histories that few Americans fully understand. This talk will explore the longer history of racist, discriminatory policing in the United States and demonstrate how that history can be used to help make sense of the present.


Public Forum Taking Stock: Lessons Learned from Historical and Contemporary Policy Perspectives on Racialized and Violent Policing,” Co-Moderated by a Faculty Member from the Heinz College and the Department of History, Dietrich College (TBA).
Friday, May 7, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm
RSVP to Attend

*Download the Spring 2021 Speaker Series event poster here.


The Social Justice Committee, comprising student, staff, and faculty representatives, was formed in summer of 2020 to envision and design programs that engage the Heinz College community on social justice issues, utilizing the College’s relevant scholarship and evidence-based strategies to shape national discourse and policy action.


Ayana A Ledford
Amelia M Haviland
Daniel Nagin

Alex Jackson
Jeffrey Scanlon
Wasiullah Mohamed

Alexandra Lutz
Jon C Nehlsen
Jackie A Speedy

Rayid Ghani
Richard A Stafford
Silvia Borzutzky