Scholar Activism: The Role of Academia in Advancing Social Justice and Racial Equity

Harvard Office of the VPAL, Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Academics and researchers, especially at institutions such as Harvard, are often viewed as disconnected from the real world, studying esoteric questions that are distant (if not irrelevant) to policy, practice, and decisions that impact the daily lives of people. At the same time, an unspoken expectation for research to be ‘neutral’ often creates tensions for students and scholars who are uncomfortable simply studying discrimination and inequality, and want their work to have an impact in advancing social justice. Join Natalia Linos, ScD, Executive Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard; Magda Matache PhD, Director of the Roma Program at the FXB Center; and Jasmine Graves MPH, member of the FXB Center’s doctoral cohort, for a discussion on what it means to be a scholar-activist.

This VPAL Signature Event is brought to you by Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, in conjunction with the Harvard Alumni Association and Harvard’s FXB Center for Health & Human Rights.

Natalia Linos is a social epidemiologist and the Executive Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard. She has over 15 years of experience working at the global and local levels on some of the most pressing public health challenges of our time – from climate change to systemic racism. Since 2019, she has helped build a new research area for the FXB Center focused on racial justice. Along with Dr. Bassett, she co-leads the two largest programs in this area, namely to create an actionable field of scholarship on structural racism and health and to make the public health case for reparations. Prior to her role at Harvard, Natalia worked at the United Nations for over a decade in diverse roles. Natalia has a strong commitment to public service and bringing public health expertise into political decision-making. In 2020 and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Natalia ran for Congress to represent Massachusetts’ fourth Congressional district. She is currently a Town Meeting Member in Brookline and is a member of Brookline’s Advisory Council on Public Health. She also serves on the Board of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Natalia is a three-time Harvard University graduate, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, Master of Science in Social Epidemiology, and Doctor of Science in Social Epidemiology. She also holds a Certificate in Forced Migration from Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre.

Dr. Margareta (Magda) Matache is a scholar from Romania, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights’ Roma Program, and a Harvard instructor. Her research and teaching focus on the history and manifestations of anti-Roma racism, as well as the global history of race and racism. From 2005 to 2012, Dr. Matache was the Executive Director of Romani CRISS, a human rights organization that defends the rights of Roma. In 2012, she was awarded a Hauser postdoctoral fellowship at the FXB Center, where she founded the University’s Roma Program. Dr. Matache is the co-editor of Time for Reparations, a forthcoming volume exploring the issue of reparations across a broad range of historical and geographic contexts and academic disciplines. Her other publications and research have ranged from the rights and agency of Romani children and adolescents to early childhood development, anti-Roma racism, reparations, segregation in education, and participatory action research. She completed her Master’s in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and her doctoral degree in Political Sciences from the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Bucharest. She also holds a master’s degree in European Social Policies.

Jasmine Graves is a public health researcher and social impact strategist committed to dismantling systems of oppression and rebuilding a world where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color thrive. A natural problem solver, Jasmine drove public policy for nearly ten years as a former Senior Policy Advisor to New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Advisor to two New York City Health Commissioners, and Qualitative Researcher on Rikers Island. During her tenure at the New York City Mayor’s Office, she served as a leader in the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She leveraged her oversight of an $80 million behavioral health and correctional health portfolio to shift City policies and practices at the intersection of mental illness, substance use, and houselessness from criminalization to humanization. Jasmine is currently pursuing a PhD in Population Health Sciences as a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In between classes, she serves as the Founder and Principal Strategist at Radical Imagination Strategies, LLC, a New York City -based consulting firm that provides strategic public health planning, research and policy support to social justice focused organizations and institutions across the United States. Jasmine’s work focuses on the health impacts of structural racism via documenting the harms of carceral systems. Her firm is currently engaged in efforts to radically imagine community driven systems of safety. Ms. Graves received her BA in World Arts and Cultures from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and her MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University

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