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Natalia Molina and Ruha Benjamin to deliver keynote address at USC Rossier Commencement ceremonies

USC Rossier doctoral and master’s Commencement ceremonies on May 10 and May 12, 2023

By Karolyn Pearson Published on

The two speakers selected to deliver remarks at the USC Rossier School of Education Commencement ceremonies highlight the school’s focus on preparing leaders to advance equity in the communities they serve.

Natalia Molina, a historian, award-winning author and distinguished professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will deliver remarks at the education doctoral hooding ceremony on May 10. Molina’s work examines the historical roots of narratives about race and citizenship, how they shaped public policy and how they continue to play a role in today’s racial inequities. Much of her writing, which earned her a MacArthur Fellowship in 2020, also focuses on sharing the stories of the under-documented.

Ruha Benjamin, a scholar, award-winning author and founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, will speak at the master’s ceremony on May 12. Benjamin is the Alexander Stewart 1886 professor of African American Studies at Princeton University where she explores the social dimensions of science and technology, including data sciences, algorithmic discrimination and what she terms the New Jim Code. Her work helps empower people to ask critical questions as they engage with these fields.

“We are excited to welcome both of these scholars because their work is ultimately focused on exposing and dismantling racism,” said USC Rossier Dean Pedro A. Noguera. “Natalia and Ruha explore the historical factors that influence some of today’s biggest policy debates. They’ve helped develop the tools that allow us to reimagine a better future.”

Both women spent at least part of their childhood in Los Angeles. Molina, an Echo Park native, remembers being keenly aware of the stigmatization of race, immigrant community members and her neighborhood.

“I was always fascinated by the fact that some certain groups as able to assimilate while others were not—why are some people accepted as American more readily than others?” Molina said in an interview with the MacArthur Foundation. “Studying history from the perspective of different racial and ethnic groups reshapes who we think of as American, reshapes how people see themselves as part of America.”

Her most recent book, A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community, shared the story of her grandmother, a successful business owner who created a vital gathering space for workers and customers in east Los Angeles. Her other books include How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts and Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879–1940.

Most of Benjamin’s research has focused on race, technology and justice in complex systems. She examined how decisions, assumptions and values shape the process of tech development.

“By calling attention to discriminatory design, we’re able to one, see the harm, but the hope is not that we stop there. The hope is that by seeing the harm, we feel empowered, we feel motivated,” Benjamin said in a previous interview.

But in her latest book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want, she said she was inspired to rethink the importance of small, individual actions and how people can transform society through the choices they make every day. Benjamin has published three other books Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, People’s Science: Bodies & Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier and Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life.

Both commencement events will be livestreamed on the USC Rossier YouTube Channel. 

For additional information on Commencement, visit:

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