Vassar Institute for Liberal Arts Programs

From Protest to Progress: Higher Education, Cities, and Racial Justice

August 17 and August 18, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and myriad acts of racial violence in America, protests (of all types) have re-emerged as a common response to our social injustices and tensions.

Race and racism have also been highlighted as common threads that have defined how we understand and try to address broader issues of health equity and citizenship in America. While much of the recent discourse about health equity and racism has taken place on the national stage, many of the opportunities for change exist locally: elections for local officials, city budgets, and place-based advocacy from Community Based Organizations.

During this virtual convening, participants explored the role higher education can play in supporting and facilitating transformative change in the cities and towns in which they exist. Speakers included representatives from philanthropic organizations, community organizers, and academics who have studied various forms of protests throughout history. Our hope is that this convening served as the beginning of a series of conversations at Vassar and beyond about how to transform our institutions in a way that allows for racial justice.

Monday, August 17

Setting the Stage

12:30 p.m.–12:45 p.m.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar

Racial Justice & Economic Development in the Hudson Valley

12:45 p.m.–1:30 p.m.

Ashleigh Gardere, Director of the All Cities Initiative, Policy Link

Intergroup Dynamics: Leadership & Representational Groups

1:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

David Berg, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine


2:30 p.m.–3:00 p.m.

Group Work: Establishing and Sustaining Productive Partnerships for Progress

3:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.

Tuesday, August 18

Welcome and Introduction

12:00 p.m.–12:15 p.m.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar

Vassar Faculty Panel: The History of Social Movements and the Fight for Racial Justice

12:15 p.m.–1:15 p.m.

  • Kimberly Williams Brown Assistant Professor of Education
  • Miriam Cohen, Professor of History
  • Jasmine Syedullah, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
  • Katie Hite, Professor of Political Science
  • Eva Woods Peiró, Professor of Hispanic Studies
  • Moderator: Tyrone Simpson, Associate Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies


1:15 p.m.–1:30 p.m.

Fireside Chat—Meeting the Moment: Philanthropy, Higher Education, and Racial Equity

1:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

Jennifer Ching, Executive Director, North Star Fund and Jerry Maldonado, Director of Cities and States, Ford Foundation

Anchor Institutions and a Racial Justice Framework

1:15 p.m.–1:30 p.m.

Scot Spencer, Associate Director, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Closing Remarks

3:15 p.m.–3:30 p.m.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar

Wednesday, August 19 (Invitation only)

Debrief, Reflections, and Next Steps

9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m.


David Berg

David N. Berg is an organizational psychologist with special interests in group and intergroup relations. He received a BA in psychology and an MA in administrative sciences from Yale University as well as a PhD in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan.

For fifteen years (1977–1992) Dr. Berg was a professor at the Yale School of Organization and Management (SOM) where he taught courses in organizational behavior, group dynamics, research methods and organizational diagnosis. He was the 1990 recipient of the SOM Alumni Award for excellence in teaching. While at SOM, Dr. Berg also served in a number of administrative roles including Director of Professional Studies for the masters program in public and private management and Director of Graduate Studies in the organizational behavior doctoral program.

In 1992 Dr. Berg opened a private practice in organizational psychology, continuing his work as a consultant to organizations and groups and as a teacher in executive programs and university classrooms. Dr. Berg has worked with private corporations, large and small, non-profit organizations and public sector agencies. In this work he strives to maintain connections between the world of ideas and the world of practice.

Dr. Berg is now a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and a member of the core faculty of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. In these roles he helps medical students, residents, chief residents and fellows develop their understanding of groups and organizations. In 2005 and 2008, Dr. Berg won the Psychiatry Residents Association Teaching Award. He was named the Outstanding Clinical Faculty member by Department of Psychiatry in 2010.

Dr. Berg was the Deputy Editor of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science from 1994-2004. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Paradoxes of Group Life (with Kenwyn Smith), Failures in Organization Development and Change (edited with Philip Mirvis), The Self in Social Inquiry (edited with Kenwyn Smith) and ­­Rediscovering Groups (with Marshall Edelson).

Elizabeth Bradley

Elizabeth H. Bradley, PhD, was named the 11th President of Vassar College in July 2017. Prior to this position, she was on the faculty at Yale for twenty years, and was most recently the Brady-Johnson Professor of Grand Strategy and Faculty Director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute. She also served as the Head of Branford College at Yale. Bradley is renowned internationally for her work on quality of hospital care and large-scale health system strengthening efforts within the US and abroad including in China, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, and the United Kingdom. Bradley has published nearly 320 peer-reviewed papers and has co-authored three books including The American Healthcare Paradox: Why Spending More Is Getting Us Less. Bradley was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2017.

Bradley graduated phi beta kappa and magna cum laude from Harvard in economics, earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a PhD in health economics from Yale University. Bradley grew up in New Britain, Connecticut and is married to her husband John with whom she has three adult children.

Jennifer Ching

Jennifer Ching is the Executive Director of North Star Fund, a social justice fund that supports grassroots organizing led by communities of color building power in New York City and the Hudson Valley. Jennifer is a passionate advocate for social justice with a deep breadth of experience as a lawyer, non-profit leader, teacher and organizer. She believes in taking risks, thinking creatively and learning from others. Before leading North Star Fund, Jennifer practiced law for almost 20 years and witnessed the power of people to use law and organizing to bring about social change. For seven years, Jennifer led Queens Legal Services (LSNYC), a community-based legal advocacy center that works with thousands of New Yorkers every year. Before Queens Legal Services, she was the Director of New York Appleseed, a public interest legal policy program that connects grassroots groups with private sector resources.

Miriam Cohen

Miriam Cohen, Evalyn Clark Professor of History, has been at Vassar since 1977. She received her BA at the University of Rochester in 1971 and PhD in history from the University of Michigan in 1978. Her specialties include the history of American women and the history of twentieth-century social reform. Her book, Workshop to Office: Two Generations of Italian Women in New York City (1993) was a finalist for the Thomas Znaniecki Prize of the American Sociological Association. She is completing a manuscript with Michael Hanagan on the comparative history of the welfare state in England, France, and the United States, 1870-1950. They have published numerous articles dealing with various aspects of this work. Her article, “Reconsidering Schools and the American Welfare State,” History of Education Quarterly 45:4 (Winter, 2005) was selected as one of forty articles for the journal’s Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective issue published in Fall, 2010, which highlights the major trends of the first fifty years of the journal. Her book Julia Lathrop: Social Service and Progressive Government, was published by Westview Press in 2017. Professor Cohen’s other recent professional activities include membership on the selection committee for the Joan Kelly Memorial Book Prize of the American Historical Association and the Final Selection Committee for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowships in Women’s Studies, 2005 and 2008, and the Program Committee for the History of Education Society annual meeting in 2010. She was also a senior advisory editor of Encyclopedia of Women in American History (M.E. Sharpe, 2002).

Ashleigh Gardere

Ashleigh Gardere is a pioneer in inclusive economic growth. She works effectively across government, business and nonprofit sectors to deliver transformative results in New Orleans while influencing new practices and policies across the nation. Recognized by Living Cities as one of the nation’s Top 25 Disruptive Leaders working to close racial opportunity gaps, Ashleigh is an expert in economic and workforce development, public policy, organizational leadership and culture change, and performance management for large-scale systems transformation. She has raised over $150 million to support innovation and institution-building in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

As Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the New Orleans Business Alliance, Ashleigh transformed the public-private partnership into one of the nation’s leading economic development organizations prioritizing inclusive growth as the pathway to a thriving, sustainable economy. She established a new organizational structure and culture of performance while aligning Industry Attraction, Small Business Growth, Talent, and Strategic Neighborhood Development strategies to deliver greater benefits to locals.

Ashleigh served the City of New Orleans as Senior Advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, connecting New Orleans residents to family-sustaining wages and business growth opportunities. As principal strategist, implementer and coordinator of the Mayor’s Economic Opportunity Strategy, Ashleigh led a cross-sector initiative that reduced the African American male non-employment rate from 52% to 43.9%. In addition to passing one of the first local hire policies in the American South—and successfully defending the policy from state preemption, she set a new standard of proactive compliance with the City’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) policy, increasing DBE participation from 35% to 48.62% in just three years.

Ashleigh previously served as Vice President of Community Relations at Chase Bank for Louisiana. During her tenure, she envisioned, established and convened a collaborative of local and national foundations to support the revitalization of the Central City neighborhood as a model for post-Katrina, community-led rebuilding. Ashleigh began her career working in various strategic planning and policy development roles supporting the work of local and national nonprofit organizations with community development-oriented missions, including the F.B. Heron Foundation, Center for Community Change and Greater Treme Consortium.

Ashleigh serves as a trustee of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation which partners with organizations and networks to alleviate poverty and increase social and economic justice in 11 Southern states. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from New York University and a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she was a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow.

Jerry Maldonado

Jerry Maldonado is the director of Cities and States, leading the foundation’s Just Cities and Regions, Detroit, and US states programs. Jerry joined Ford as a program manager in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, overseeing the implementation of the foundation’s cross-program Gulf Coast Transformation Initiative. As a program officer, and then as a senior program officer, his grant making focused on integrated regional strategies for building stronger communities, by improving access for low-income families to permanently affordable housing, reducing blight, improving transit choices, and strengthening decent work opportunities. Over the past decade, he has developed and managed innovative, place-based grant making strategies in San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York, and Puerto Rico, and facilitated the creation of multi-issue, cross-sector grantee collaboratives that strengthened civic engagement and advanced inclusive local development.

Eva Woods Peiró

Eva Woods Peiró is a Professor of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College. She has authored and co-edited two books and numerous articles on cinema in Spain between the 1920s and the present. Her current projects focus on Spanish film magazines of the 1920s and 30s and contemporary Trans-Atlantic digital cinema with particular attention to issues of surveillance and migration. She has taught and mentored in the Media, Latin American and Latinx, Women’s and International Studies Programs. In addition to chairing and directing her department and multi-disciplinary programs and serving on several committees, her community-campus service has involved chairing the Engaged Pluralism’s working group, Bridging Local and Global Communities; organizing Undoing Racism workshops; teaching Building Inclusive Communities with Latinx Poughkeepsie; and incorporating Conversations Unbound in her Hispanic Studies courses since 2017. She is a member of Poughkeepsie ENJAN (End the New Jim Crow Action Network), a founding member of the Poughkeepsie-Oaxaca City Friendship Committee Initiative, and a member of the Complete Count Census Committee. She has served as an officer on the Arlington School District PTA and is currently a member of their Equity Team.

Tyrone Simpson

Tyrone Simpson is an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Africana Studies Program, who also teaches in the programs of Urban Studies and American Studies. He has been a fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a fellow for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program in Princeton, New Jersey. He has interests in American nationalism, immigration and mobility, black intellectual thought, and critical race theory. He has published on topics as varied as imprisonment and torture, black comedy, and race and politics in Kansas. He is celebrating the recent release of his first book entitled Ghetto Images in Twentieth-Century American Literature (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012) that explores how six American writers imagine and fictionalize the experience of ghettoization. He is currently working on a project that looks at black autobiography and the politics of confessional storytelling. In 2019, Tyrone organized a campus-wide celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Africana Studies Program at Vassar that brought together alumnae/I, students, and scholars from around the country.

Scot Spencer

Scot Spencer leads the Foundation’s work in advancing community-focused policies, practices and strategies that increase opportunities for children, families and the places where they live and foster their success. Spencer also coordinates Casey’s local advocacy efforts in Baltimore. Before taking on these roles, Spencer managed Casey’s investments in East Baltimore, where the Foundation has worked to strengthen community and economic development in a historic, low-income neighborhood next door to the Johns Hopkins University medical campus. He previously was a transportation specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund, where he focused on state-level smart-growth policy and Commuter Choice, a local tax incentive for people who use transit. In addition, he worked for several years in private architectural practice, community development and university relations in upstate New York.

Jasmine K. Syedullah

Learn more about Jasmine Syedullah

Katie Hite

Katherine Hite joined the Vassar faculty in 1997. She received her BA from Duke University and her masters in International Affairs and PhD in political science from Columbia University. Prior to her arrival at Vassar, she served as the associate director of the Institute of Latin American and Iberian Studies of Columbia, where she also taught courses in Latin American studies and comparative politics. From 2008-12, Hite directed Vassar’s Latin American and Latino/a Studies program.

Dr. Hite’s recent work focuses on the politics of memory, as well as issues in higher education, access and equity. Her research has been supported by the Fulbright Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hite’s teaching interests include Latin American politics, social movements, and the legacies of violence for governments and societies in transition around the globe.


Over 96% of participants have stated that they would recommend this program to their respective peers and colleagues.

  • “...a start to an organized form for regular in-depth discussions on racial justice and the role that Vassar community can play.”
  • “...informative and inspiring.”
  • “...I learned so much about interdisciplinary approaches to combating racial justice.”
  • “It would be exciting if such programming were available year-round!!!”
  • “...what I will remember the most is the history of activism at Vassar, as it was presented clearly and with good storytelling.”
  • “I am looking forward to seeing the Conference Center being built and becoming a magnet for ideas and study.”
  • “A great idea and well executed.”

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