Ruha Benjamin Headlines the McGovern Lecture and Kicks Off the first CLASS 2020-21 Lecture Series on Race and Social Justice

Professor, author and activist shares her views on the racial dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social intersections of science, technology, and medicine.

Ruha Benjamin

The University of Houston  College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) is pleased to announce that noted scholar, author, and Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, Ruha Benjamin, Ph.D., will deliver the 2020 John P. McGovern Award Lecture in Family, Health, and Human Values. Benjamin’s address will serve as the kickoff to the CLASS 2020-21 Lecture Series on Race and Social Justice, a series of seven lectures on race and social justice topics, beginning September 17, 2020.

In her lecture, "Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want," Dr. Benjamin examines the twin crises of COVID-19 and police violence, mapping the many vectors through which racism gets under the skin and into the blood stream, attacking our bodies and body politic. She offers a theory of change and viral justice as a practical and principled approach to transmuting a hostile racial climate into one that is more habitable, hopeful, and just.

"I commend the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences for its commitment to providing the community with an opportunity to explore and more fully understand critical issues of race and social justice," said Paula Myrick Short, UH provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "Through dialogue and discussion with Ruha Benjamin, the College is providing great leadership in bringing national and international thought leaders to this exploration."

Benjamin was born in India to a mother of Persian-Indian heritage and an African American father. The family moved to Los Angeles when she was 3, and Benjamin says that she comes from "many souths:" south-central Los Angeles, South Carolina, Majura, South Pacific and Swaziland, southern Africa, all of which contribute to her perspective of looking at the world from its underbelly. Hearing stories of her parents’ struggles inspired her to consider how technology sometimes clashes with the needs of real people.

"Dr. Benjamin is one of America’s most insightful, scholarly voices on race, society, and technology," said CLASS Interim Dean Daniel P. O’Connor. "She explores how science and technology shape our world and influence racial division and inequality. Benjamin’s dedication to understanding of how technology and class structure interact sheds light on the situations we all face today."

Benjamin is also the founder of the IDA B. WELLS Just Data Lab. The lab aims to bring together students, educators, activists, and artists to develop a critical and creative approach to data conception, production, and circulation. She is the author of two books, People's Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford) and Race After Technology (Polity), and editor of Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life (Duke). Benjamin writes, teaches and speaks widely about the relationship between knowledge and power, race and citizenship, and health and justice.

Benjamin will be joined in this event by Nancy Krieger, Ph.D., who is a professor of social epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the School’s Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health.

The John P. McGovern Endowment was established in 1999 and supports the John P. McGovern Annual Award Lectureship in Family, Health, and Human Values. The series focuses on speakers with notable expertise in those areas. Each speaker is presented with the John P. McGovern Award Medallion.

The CLASS 2020-21 Lecture Series on Race and Social Justice will consist of at least seven events over the 2020-21 academic year, beginning in September and culminating in April. 

The CLASS Special Committee on Race and Social Justice was formed in June 2020 and tasked with helping to bring meaningful insight and engagement with racial injustice in response to the unprecedented upsurge of Black Lives Matter protests across the United States and the world.

"Our responsibility as human beings and as scholars compels us to take a stand against injustice and oppression," said Professor Nicholas De Genova, committee chairperson. "The dean of the College has asked this group to draw on our varied expertise and experience to facilitate deepening our understanding of racism, its systemic roots, and how it intersects with a range of social problems."

CLASS has continued to address race and social justice issues, as evidenced by a collection of more than 20 courses set to launch in the Fall 2020 semester, addressing various aspects of this topic. To learn about these courses, please visit: UH CLASS Tackles Race and Social Justice: From the Streets to the Syllabus.

The next event in the CLASS 2020-21 Lecture Series on Race and Social Justice focuses on voting rights and will be held October 21, 2020. It will feature Dr. Martha S. Jones, Ph.D., Society of Black Alumni presidential professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.

What:  CLASS 2020-21 Lecture Series on Race and Social Justice

Who: Dr. Ruha Benjamin, associate professor of African American Studies, Princeton University, and founding director of the IDA B. WELLS Just Data Lab, in dialogue with Dr. Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director of the school’s Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health.

When: Thursday, September 17, 2020 | 3:30-5 p.m. CST

Where: Online Live-Stream

Cost: Free and open to the public