Human Rights Lawyer Haben Girma to Address Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems 20th Anniversary Celebration

For twenty years, Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) has been a leader in bringing thought-provoking research and discussions about race and social issues to local, national, and international audiences. CRSP’s work has ranged from rigorous empirical research projects, to major national conferences, summer institutes for social work professionals, and a popular speaker series featuring leading race researchers and race scholars from across the United States.

Based in Pitt’s School of Social Work, CRSP will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a virtual event featuring esteemed scholar and White House Champion of Change Haben Girma, on February 2nd, 2022 from 4:45 to 6 p.m. Her talk is titled: “Disability Justice: A Conversation with Haben, the Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.” The lecture is open to the public and those wishing to attend can register online. The event is also the inaugural Florence Gibbs Momeyer Endowed Lecture.

The Center on Race and Social Problems was founded in 2002 by the late Pitt School of Social Work Dean Emeritus Larry E. Davis. The Center was founded to help lead America further along the path to social justice by conducting race-related research, mentoring emerging scholars, and disseminating race-related research findings and scholarship. The Center is multidisciplinary in its approach and multiracial in its focus and was the first race-related research center to be housed in a school of social work. It focuses on race-related social problems in eight key areas—economics; education; health; law; mental health; older adults; race relations; and youth development.

Currently led by Interim Director John Wallace, School of Social Work David Epperson Chair and vice provost for faculty diversity and development, CRSP has continued its work funding, initiating, and collaborating to design, implement and evaluate applied research-to-practice interventions nested in communities of color. Unlike traditional research done on communities, CRSP faculty develop and conduct research and intervention projects in partnership with communities. CRSP partners include young people, parents, schools, congregations, youth serving organizations, and community development agencies. Current projects include: the Just Discipline Project; Pitt-Assisted Communities & Schools (PACS); the Pittsburgh Parenting Project; Research for Equity & Power (REP); and the SPIN Project.

According to Wallace, “Dean Davis took CRSP from just an idea to a nationally recognized hub for applied research, student training and the dissemination of knowledge. The benefit of Center to Pitt and the Pittsburgh region cannot be overstated.”

In its first 20 years, the Center’s many achievements include the following:

  • Hosted the 2010 national “Race in America” conference, where solutions were proposed for some of society’s most pressing race-related problems;
  • Launched the groundbreaking academic journal Race and Social Problems, a multidisciplinary periodical with articles that address race and its relationship to today’s psychological, cultural, and socioeconomic problems;
  • Created a graduate course that has taken multiple cohorts of students to Cuba to study race and social issues firsthand;
  • Delivered an ongoing series of spring and fall public lectures that featured leading race-research experts from across the United States.
  • Sponsored annual summer institutes at Pitt to teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, police and law enforcement, foundation leaders, civic leaders and other professionals on topics ranging from gun violence to involving Black parents in public education;
  • Funded multiple cohorts of CRSP Fellows (social work interns) who have worked in local schools and not-for-profit organizations to improve the lives of children, youth and families;
  • Offered an annual award for the best student paper, written in any course, to encourage the study of race and social problems across at the University of Pittsburgh;
  • Granted funds for up to 3 race-focused pilot project proposals per year for University faculty from any discipline;
  • Published demographic reports and compiled data that have helped inform local government agencies’ priorities, policies and initiatives;

About Haben Girma

The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and TIME100 Talks. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation, and she teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, and TODAY Show featured her memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

Haben was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she currently lives. Her memoir takes readers on adventures around the world, including her parents’ homes in Eritrea and Ethiopia, building a school under the scorching Saharan sun, training with a guide dog in New Jersey, climbing an iceberg in Alaska, fighting for blind readers at a courthouse in Vermont, and talking with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating book is a testament to Haben’s determination to resist isolation and find the keys to connection.