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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

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


Tomiko Brown-Nagin is dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, one of the world’s leading centers for interdisciplinary research across the humanities, sciences, social sciences, arts, and professions. She is also the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

An award-winning legal historian and an expert in constitutional law, she is the author of groundbreaking scholarship. Brown-Nagin’s book, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (Pantheon, 2022), explores the life and times of the pathbreaking lawyer, politician, and judge, and garnered widespread praise. The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the Smithsonian Magazine, and Time all cited it as one of the Best Books of 2022. And, Civil Rights Queen won several prizes, including the 2023 Order of the Coif Book Award, the 2023 Darlene Clark Hine Award, and the 2023 Lillian Smith Book Award. Her previous book, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2011), won a 2012 Bancroft Prize in American History, the Liberty Legacy Prize of the Organization of American Historians, and the John Phillip Reid Book Award by the American Society of Legal History, among other honors.

In addition, Brown-Nagin’s scholarship and commentary on the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence, civil rights law and history, and education reform have been published in the Yale Law Journal, the Duke Law Journal, Law & History Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and POLITICO Magazine, among other publications.

From 2019-2022, Brown-Nagin chaired the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery. As chair, she led the highly-visible University-wide initiative and co-authored the Committee’s landmark report detailing the University’s direct, financial, and intellectual ties to slavery. Lauded in The Washington Post and in The New York Review of Books for its scholarly breadth and depth, the report was nominated for several academic prizes. 

Brown-Nagin has served as dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since 2018. During her tenure, she has helped recruit excellent faculty to Harvard, expanded Radcliffe’s renowned fellowship program to academics and artists from a broad array of backgrounds and institutional affiliations, increased student engagement, and built partnerships with community-based organizations.

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.