Events & exhibitions

Kim and Judy Davis Dean’s Lecture in the Social Sciences: Conversation with Ruth J. Simmons

Portrait of Ruth J. Simmons
Ruth J. Simmons/ Gittings Photography

Join us for a conversation between scholars and university leaders Ruth J. Simmons, former president of Prairie View A&M University, Brown University, and Smith College, and Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute. They will discuss President Simmons’s new book, Up Home: One Girl’s Journey (Random House, 2023), as well as her personal journey, her pioneering work researching and sharing publicly universities’ historical ties to slavery, and her perspectives on the future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and higher education in light of recent Supreme Court rulings.

The Kim and Judy Davis Dean’s Lecture Series was established through the generosity of Kim G. Davis AB ’76, MBA ’78, and Judith N. Davis, longtime friends and champions of Harvard Radcliffe Institute. This annual lecture series invites leading figures from across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences to share their expertise, ideas, and diverse perspectives with the Harvard community and the broader public.

Higher Ed Leader Ruth Simmons Talks Recent Memoir, Legacy in Higher Education with Harvard Radcliffe Dean (Harvard Crimson, 11/14/23)

"Living One’s Life during and after the Violation of One’s Humanity" (Harvard Gazette, 9/22/23)


Ruth J. Simmons is a distinguished presidential fellow at Rice University and senior adviser to the president of Harvard University on engagement with HBCUs. She served as president of Prairie View A&M University until March 2023. Prior to joining Prairie View, she was president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012 and president of Smith College from 1995 to 2001.

After completing her PhD in romance languages and literatures at Harvard, Simmons served in faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College. At Smith, she launched a number of important academic initiatives, including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college. As president of Brown University, Simmons held an appointment as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies and led the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery and injustice, forming the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice to help the community think seriously, deeply, and rigorously about their past.  

She is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, the President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University. She has received over 40 honorary degrees from universities around the world and is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on the boards of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Alley Theatre, The MacArthur Foundation, Morehouse College, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Holdsworth Center, and Hines Global Income Trust. In 2012, she was named a “‘chevalier”’ of the French Legion of Honor.

Tomiko Brown-Naginis dean, Harvard Radcliffe Institute; Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School; and professor of history, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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