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Dean's Lecture Series on Race and Discrimination

The Dean's Lecture Series annually convenes scholars and thought leaders whose work provides innovative perspectives on race and discrimination.

The series provides our community with foundational knowledge on race, civil rights, discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, and critical historical milestones and their importance. We hope the series will ground our understanding of present-day discourse in a deeper, historically-informed context to highlight social and political movements, impetus for legal changes, and ongoing areas of contention and struggle in race, civil rights and discrimination. Events are free and open to the public.

2023-2024 Series


Photo of Jim Obergefell Melissa Murray

Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU Law School and Faculty Director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center

September 15, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

"Dobbs and Democracy" 

Professor Melissa Murray is the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU Law School and Faculty Director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center. She is a nationally recognized expert on reproductive rights, family and constitutional law. Her award-winning research has focused on the regulation of intimate life and encompasses such topics as the regulation of sex and sexuality, marriage and its alternatives, the marriage equality debate as well as the legal recognition of caregiving, and reproductive rights and justice. Professor Murray is a leading public intellectual with extensive impact on current debates. Murray is a regular contributor on MSNBC, co-host of the popular podcast Strict Scrutiny, and commented for media like the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and the Nation, as well as NPR, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and PBS. Professor Murray is an honors graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut. She is a member of the New York bar and the American Law Institute.

C.P. Hoffman

Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality

October 24, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

"Gender Affirming Care, Medical Privacy, and Trans Rights" 

C.P. Hoffman (they/she) serves as Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality. Prior to joining NCTE, they served as Legal Director and Policy Director of FreeState Justice, Maryland’s statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy organization; worked in-house advising the nation’s leading digital accessibility service’s firm on trends in accessibility litigation; practiced antitrust law in New York City; and published broadly on a number of subjects, including law and social justice, gender, and popular culture, as well as intersections of the three. From 2018 through 2020, they served as an Advisory Committee Member and the MidAtlantic Region Leader for the Intersex & Genderqueer Recognition Project (now the Nonbinary and Intersex Recognition Project), a national organization dedicated to ensuring the rights of individuals to identify as something other than male or female on government-issued documents. C.P. holds a J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law, as well as an LL.M. from the McGill University Institute of Comparative Law.

Spring 2023 Series

The Spring 2023 Dean’s Lecture Series will convene cutting-edge thinkers, scholars and practitioners pioneering new thinking in racial justice, civil rights, and discrimination. This Series aims to provide the VLS Community with a chance to come together, to listen and to engage with a varied set of perspectives delivered through a set of interdisciplinary lectures. A full list of speakers is listed below. We encourage all members of the VLS community to participate as fully as they can.


Photo of Jim Obergefell Jim Obergefell

Plaintiff in the Landmark Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case

April 13, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

"Love Wins - An Open Conversation with Jim Obergefell"

In partnership with The Hyatt Fund, The George Barrett Social Justice Program, OutLaw, Law Students for Social Justice, and The Vanderbilt LQBTG+ Policy Lab, Vanderbilt Law School is honored to host Jim Obergefell to close out this year's Series. A self-described accidental activist, Jim found himself in the role of caregiver for his partner of more than 20 years, John, as he neared the end of his life due to ALS. An unexpected series of events led to their decision to marry, eventually taking Jim to the Supreme Court and the 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that resulted in victory for marriage equality. Jim and co-author, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Debbie Cenziper, captured Jim and John’s story, as well as the stories of others involved in this case in the book Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality.

Now a self-described purposeful activist, Jim is dedicated to the fight for equality not just for the LGBTQ community, but for civil rights for all.


Photo of Judge Rupert A. Byrdsong Professor Shaul Kelner

Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University

April 3, 2023, 3:00 p.m.

"Elie Wiesel Goes to Moscow: On the (In)visibility of Systemic Antisemitism"

Watch the video

Professor Kelner is a national authority and prize-winning scholar in Jewish Studies. His work examines the intersection of culture and politics, focusing on how cultural practices are mobilized to shape contemporary Jewish political identities. Garnering widespread acclaim for his scholarship, he lectures internationally at leading institutions and we are most fortunate to have this chance to welcome him to the Law School. Below is a description of Prof. Kelner's lecture in his words-
"Two decades after he was liberated from Auschwitz, and two decades before he won the Nobel Peace Price, Elie Wiesel visited the USSR to report back on the plight of Soviet Jews. His 1966 travelogue, The Jews of Silence, became the galvanizing book in a global human rights campaign that succeeded in securing freedom of emigration for millions of oppressed Jews. How did Wiesel help Westerners recognize antisemitism as systemic and structural in nature? And why has such an understanding fallen out of contemporary conversations about this oldest of oppressions?"


Barry Friedman and Vikrant Reddy"Common Ground: Where the Left and the Right Can Meet on Police Reform"

Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law and Founding Director of NYU's Policing Project
Vikrant Reddy, Senior Fellow at Stand Together Trust

March 20, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

Watch the video

In this discussion between NYU Law Professor and Founder of the Policing Project’s Barry Friedman, and Vikrant Reddy, a Federalist Society member and Senior Fellow at Stand Together Trust (formerly the Charles Koch Foundation), the two will discuss a range of current issues in policing, including use of force, militarization, racial disparities, surveillance, and traffic stops, as well as the broader issues that seem to divide us, but should not. The conversation will be moderated by Professor Christopher Slobogin, Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law and Director of Vanderbilt Law School's Criminal Justice Program, will moderate the discussion.


Photo of Judge Rupert A. Byrdsong Judge Rupert A. Byrdsong

Judge, Superior Court of Los Angeles

February 14, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

"From Resilience to Resistance" Vanderbilt Law School’s Black History Month Keynote Address

Watch the video

Since graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1994, Judge Byrdsong has blazed a stellar path with his career in employment discrimination, becoming a partner at Ivie McNeil & Wyatt. He was appointed to the bench in 2014 by Governor Jerry Brown, where his docket includes a focus on complex civil litigation. Judge Byrdsong is the President of the California Judges Association and Co-Chair of the CJA’s Task Force on the Elimination of Bias and Inequality in the Justice System. He has gained prominence as a thought leader within the judiciary in California and has been at the forefront of leading reform initiatives for the judiciary as well as the legal community. 


Photo of Professor Mary Ziegler Mary Ziegler

Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law
UC Davis School of Law 

January 23, 2023, 12:30 p.m.

"Roe, Popular Constitutionalism, and the Erosion of American Democracy"

For nearly a half century, Roe v. Wade was not only the most widely-known Supreme Court decision, but a touchstone for debate about reproductive health, rights, and justice. Mary Ziegler will discuss why it became a cultural icon—despite widespread criticism, even from progressives—and the fight to transform everything from campaign finance to voter rights. Ultimately, the history of fights about Roe show a different way forward—one routed in grassroots and constitutional mobilizations outside the federal courts—and one that will prove a stress test for democracy.


Spring 2022 Speakers:

Photo of Professor Learotha Williams Learotha Williams

Associate Professor of African American and Public History and North Nashville Heritage Project Coordinator
Tennessee State University

March 3, 2022, 12:30 p.m.

"Being Present in the Past: African Americans and Public Memory in the Music City"

Professor Learotha Williams of Tennessee State University is a scholar and public intellectual of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period. He has helped to create experiential education examining Nashville and Tennessee’s significance as part of the history of slavery, the Civil War and the fight for civil rights. He has been instrumental in advocating for the creation of historical markers around Nashville. Professor Williams is the Co-Editor of I’ll Take You There: Exploring Nashville’s Social Justice Sites. He also runs the North Nashville Heritage Project, exploring the experiences and histories of the residents of North Nashville.


This moderated discussion, led by Professor Yesha Yadav, Associate Dean and Robert Belton Director of Diversity, Equity and Community, will feature an all-star panel of grassroots activists including:      Dawn Deaner, Founder and Executive Director of the Choosing Justice Initiative     Rasheedat Fetuga, President and CEO of Gideon’s Army     Dawn Harrington, Executive Director of Free Hearts     Charlane Oliver, Co-Founder & Co-Executive Director of The Equity Alliance Advocacy in Action Panel

Dawn Deaner , Founder and Executive Director of the Choosing Justice Initiative
Charlane Oliver , Co-Founder & Co-Executive Director of The Equity Alliance
Keeda Haynes, Senior Legal Advisor of Free Hearts and Voting Rights Campaign Strategist at the Sentencing Project

March 23, 2022, 3:10 - 4:30 p.m.

"Advocacy in Action – Grounds Gained in Grassroots Activism and the Call to Keep Advancing"

Watch the presentation

This moderated discussion, led by Professor Yesha Yadav, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Community, will feature an all-star panel of extraordinary leaders in activism and advocacy.


Photo of Ji Seon Song Ji Seon Song

Assistant Professor of Law
The University of California, Irvine School of Law

April 1, 2022, 12:30 p.m.

"Patient or Prisoner: Hospitals as Carceral Settings"

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Professor Song's teaching and research focuses on criminal law, criminal procedure, and policing. Her scholarship examines the deployment of policing authority and its effects on racial minority and other marginalized groups. Her research informs interventions that address race- and class-based disparities in policing practices. Song is a well-known advocate for local, regional, and national juvenile justice reform.


Photo of Justice Liu Goodwin H. Liu

Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court

April 21, 2022, 12:30 p.m.

Watch the presentation

Goodwin Liu is an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court. Nominated by Governor Jerry Brown, Justice Liu was sworn into office in 2011 and retained by the electorate in 2014. Before joining the state’s highest court, Justice Liu was Professor of Law and Associate Dean at the UC Berkeley School of Law. His primary areas of expertise are constitutional law, education law and policy, and diversity in the legal profession.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Justice Liu grew up in Sacramento, CA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and earned a masters degree in philosophy and physiology from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. After graduating from Yale Law School, Justice Liu became the first in his family to earn a law degree. He clerked for Judge David Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals, then worked as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and went on to clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He has also worked in litigation. Justice Liu continues to teach constitutional law as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. 


Spring 2021 Speakers:

Photo of Professor Daniel Sharfstein Daniel J. Sharfstein

Dick and Martha Lansden Chair in Law; Professor of History; Co-Director, George Barrett Social Justice Program
Vanderbilt Law School

February 25, 2021

Brown, Massive Resistance, and the Lawyer’s View: A Nashville Story”

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Daniel Sharfstein’s scholarship focuses on the legal history of race and citizenship in the United States. He received a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship to research his book on post-Reconstruction America, Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017). His book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin Press, 2011), won the 2012 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for excellence in non-fiction as well as the Law & Society Association’s 2012 James Willard Hurst Jr. Prize for socio-legal history, the William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History, and the Chancellor’s Award for Research from Vanderbilt.


Photo of Professor Kimberly WelchKimberly M. Welch

Assistant Professor of History; Assistant Professor of Law
Vanderbilt University

March 4, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

“'According to the Condition of the Mother': The Development of Racial Slavery in Seventeenth-Century Virginia"

Kim Welch is a historian of the United States with a focus on slavery, race, and the law in the American South. She is particularly interested in the world of free and enslaved African Americans, how they understood their place in southern society, and how they advanced it. Understanding how those confined to positions of subordination enlarged their rights has led her to the southern courthouse. There, to a surprising degree, they staked their claim and more often than not found it confirmed. Her first book—Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2018)—is a historical and socio-legal study of free and enslaved African Americans' use of the local courts in the cotton South.


Photo of Professor Brandon Byrd Brandon Ronald Byrd

Assistant Professor of History
Vanderbilt University

March 18, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

“The Unfinished Revolution: Race, Law, and the Struggle for Haitian Sovereignty”

Reading Materials:

The Haitian Declaration of Independence (1804)

James Weldon Johnson, “Self-Determining Haiti, Part I” (1920)

Julia Gaffield, “Race and the Haitian Constitution of 1805” (2015)

Edwidge Danticat, “Haitians are at an Impasse over the Country’s Future” (2021)

Brandon Byrd is a historian of black intellectual and social history, with special focus on black internationalism. His first book, The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), explores the ambivalent attitudes that black intellectuals in the post-Civil War era held toward Haiti. Spanning the Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, and Jim Crow eras, The Black Republic recovers a crucial and overlooked chapter of black internationalism and political thought. Professor Byrd's scholarship has appeared in numerous journals, including The Journal of African American History, Slavery and Abolition, and The Journal of Haitian Studies, and in popular outlets, such as The Washington Post. He was a faculty fellow at Vanderbilt’s Robert Penn Warren Center, participating in a year-long faculty seminar on the theme of “Borders and Belonging.” In addition to his teaching and research, Professor Byrd is a co-editor of the Black Lives and Liberation series published by Vanderbilt University Press.


Photo of Professor Jonathan MetzlJonathan Metzl

Director, Center for Medicine, Health, and Society; Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health, and Society; Professor of Psychiatry
Vanderbilt University

March 25, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

"Dying of Whiteness: Protest, the Pandemic, and the Politics of Racial Resentment"

Jonathan Metzl earned his M.D. from the University of Missouri, M.A. in humanities/poetics and psychiatric internship/residency from Stanford University, and Ph.D. in American culture from University of Michigan. Winner of the 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book Award, the 2020 APA Benjamin Rush Award for Scholarship, and a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship, Dr. Metzl has written extensively for medical, psychiatric and other popular publications about some of the most urgent hot-button issues facing America and the world. His books include The Protest Psychosis, Prozac on the Couch, Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality, and Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America's Heartland.


Photo of Professor Rhonda Y. Williams Rhonda Y. Williams

John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History
Vanderbilt University

March 31, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

"The Luxury of Supposing: Black Power and U.S. History"

Rhonda Y. Williams is a historian of low-income black women's and marginalized people's experiences, everyday lives, politics, and social struggles. Her research contributes to the rethinking of gender, political identity, citizenship, civil rights, black liberation struggles, and interactions with the U.S. state. She is the author of the award-winning The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles against Urban Inequality (2004) and Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (2015). She is the author of numerous articles and essays, including the forthcoming book chapter titled "Women, Gender, Race, and the Welfare State" in the Oxford Handbook for Women's and Gender History, co-edited by Lisa Materson and Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor. Williams is also the co-editor of the book series Justice, Power, and Politics at the University of North Carolina Press and is co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement.


Photo of Professor Matthew Shaw Matthew Patrick Shaw

Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education; Assistant Professor of Law
Vanderbilt University Peabody College

April 15, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

"Education Justice"

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Matthew Shaw joined the faculty of Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in fall 2016 after completing his doctorate in education at Harvard University. Professor Shaw earned his law degree in Columbia in 2005, after which he served for two years as a clerk for Chief Judge W. Louis Sands of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. He practiced law in Atlanta at King & Spading and Schulten Ward & Turner before pursuing his Ed.D. at Harvard, where his dissertation, "Shaping the DREAM: Law as Policy Defining Undocumented Students’ College Access," addressed several of his research interests, including federal law and education policy and the insularity of minority status.


Students may choose to undertake a one-credit-hour independent study elective attached to this lecture series on a first-come, first-served basis, to be supervised by Associate Dean Yesha Yadav. Requirements include attending each event of the series and providing a 4-5 page reaction paper to your faculty advisor. Those interested should complete the registration form and contact the assistant dean for academic affairs.