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Tomiko  Brown-Nagin

Tomiko Brown-Nagin

Prize-winning Legal Scholar & Historian, Dean of Harvard’s Renowned Radcliffe Institute


Tomiko Brown Nagin is a prize-winning author, eminent legal scholar and historian, dean of Harvard’s renowned Radcliffe Institute, and pathbreaking leader in higher education. Her groundbreaking book, Courage to Dissent, won the Bancroft Prize in 2011, and her latest book, The Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and Struggles for Equality (Pantheon, 2022), has received rave reviews. Read More >

A distinguished lecturer and frequent media commentator about American reform movements, law and social change, and equity and inclusion in higher education, Brown-Nagin’s thoughts on these subjects have been published in Slate, Vox, Politico, Time, U.S. News & World Report, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Education. And she has offered commentary for Bloomberg News, MSNBC, CBS News, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, NPR, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Guardian, the New Republic, among other media outlets.

Brown-Nagin has acquired discipline- and sector-spanning insights and experiences during her twenty-year career: she has testified before Congress about civil liberties, developed innovative educational programs, built strategic partnerships, cultivated varied constituencies, managed diverse professional teams, taught and advised hundreds of students, and as a lawyer, represented clients ranging from students seeking access to higher education and Fortune 500 companies defending business practices.

Brown-Nagin has been honored for her leadership by WGBH and the Massachusetts Black Bar Association, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the International Women’s Forum. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Constitution, the Court, and Social Change | Radcliffe Institute

Social Movements and Social Change in Twentieth Century | Harvard Law School

Speech Topics

Higher Education & Social Mobility

Institutions of higher education have often been considered vital to social mobility and achievement of the American Dream. But there is a gap between these ideals and reality of higher education. Historically divided by race and gender, many colleges and universities excluded or discriminated against people of color and women for hundreds of years. Moreover, disparities in access and equity in k-12 education, created by both governments and private actors, have resulted in race- and wealth-based opportunity gaps. And political conflict increasingly encroaches upon and is reflected in classrooms. Against the backdrop of historical inequities, persistent disparities, and deepening cultural divisions, how can colleges and universities promote access, equity and belonging for diverse populations? Transformational change requires rethinking conventional distinctions between secondary and higher education, public and private institutions, and between individual success and collective advancement.

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement for Changemakers

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s made ground-breaking racial change, helped inspire liberation movements by women and other people of color, and set the terms for today’s debates over equity and inclusion in American society. This talk discusses lessons the movement offers to today’s aspiring changemakers about how to frame agendas, mobilize supporters, and create alliances across difference in pursuit of fundamental societal change.

Gender & Leadership: Constance Baker Motley & the Rise of Women Professionals & Powerbrokers

How did the daughter of working-class West Indian immigrants become a pathbreaking leader in the 20th century’s struggles for racial and gender equality? Given where she started, no one — not even her parents — would have predicated her rise. Yet Motley, a famed civil rights lawyer and protegee of Thurgood Marshall, helped vanquish Jim Crow laws. She helped litigate Brown v. Board of Education, defended Martin Luther King in Birmingham, and represented James Meredith in his quest to end segregation at the University of Mississippi. And through her role as the first black woman appointed to the federal judiciary, Motley helped open the professional workplace to women. She both embodied and made change in the American power structure. Learn how a combination of smarts, grit, male sponsors, female networks, and philanthropic support took her to the top of the legal profession and consider what her rise means for women and people of color striving for success today.