On Radcliffe Day 2019, Friday, May 31, we will award the Radcliffe Medal to Dolores Huerta.
Registration is required and will open in March.
Dolores Huerta has spent the past 60 years fighting to secure the rights of marginalized people and communities. She is a living civil rights icon who, despite the obstacles she has faced, has held fast to her belief that political organizing and engagement can produce meaningful change.
In 1962, Huerta cofounded what would become the United Farm Workers of America. Although her name is not as recognizable as that of her partner in that endeavor, Cesar Chavez, her contributions are no less significant. She worked tirelessly to build a nationwide coalition that fought for the rights of farmworkers.
Huerta played a critical role in California’s legendary grape strike, which began in Delano in September of 1965, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields to protest years of poor pay and desperate working conditions. They were joined by Mexican workers two weeks later. The strike continued for five years, until California table-grape growers signed their first labor contracts in 1970, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections.
As David Bacon wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle on the 50th anniversary of the strike, it “was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color.”
President Barack Obama awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, saying, “Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farmworker contracts. And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table. ‘Don’t wait to be invited,’ she says. ‘Step in there.’”
Our program has been designed to honor Huerta’s critical work to secure the rights of marginalized people by examining the issue that first sparked her activism: the intersection of food and social justice.
On Radcliffe Day 2019 we will explore the shortcomings and challenges of the US food system through social, ecological, and health policy lenses. These issues are far from new, but they have received considerable attention in recent years and they remain vitally important to our nation’s well-being.
In many affluent communities, healthful, ethically produced food is increasingly available to those who seek it. Meanwhile—in our era of growing income disparity—many other Americans lack access to such food. And food production and policy in the United States continue to enable inhumane working conditions, environmental degradation, and products that undermine our health.
To repair what is broken in the US food system, it is crucial to understand and address systemic issues rather than focus exclusively on consumer behavior. Our choices are important: As consumers, we may assume that the healthful foods we buy are also sustainably and ethically produced with reasonable social protections for laborers. But all too often that is not the case. Ultimately, we must address the structural failures in the system that affect social, ecological, and health issues on a societal scale. The key question is how we can create a system that ensures just labor practices and equitable access to ethical, sustainable, and healthful food.
Our audience will have an opportunity to hear from Huerta herself as well as a panel of experts. The panel discussion, moderated by the renowned journalist Soledad O’Brien ’88, will feature leading activists and scholars with diverse and important perspectives on food, food production, and policy. In reflecting on their own work at the intersection of food and justice, they will challenge and broaden our understanding of these critical issues. The panelists will include:
- health policy expert and Harvard public health professor Sara Bleich PhD ’07 RI ’19
- immigration and employment activist, lawyer, and professor of law Jennifer Gordon ’87 JD ’92
- writer, activist, and Food First cofounder Frances Moore Lappé
- expert in agricultural and economic policy Daniel A. Sumner
- renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters
Soledad O'Brien, an award-winning journalist, speaker, author, and philanthropist, is the founder and CEO of Starfish Media Group. She anchors and produces the Hearst Television political magazine program Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. She also reports for HBO Real Sports and has authored two books. She has anchored or reported for all three networks, Fox, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, A&E, National Geographic, the PBS NewsHour, and WebMD. O’Brien has won numerous awards, including three Emmys, a George Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award, and a Gracie Award. Newsweek named her one of the “15 People Who Make America Great.” With her husband, she is a cofounder of the PowHERful Foundation, which helps young women get to and through college. Follow her on Twitter: @soledadobrien
Sara Bleich is a professor of public health policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe. Her research provides evidence to support obesity-prevention policies. Bleich served as a White House Fellow (2015–2016) and holds degrees from Columbia and Harvard.
Jennifer Gordon has been a professor at Fordham University School of Law since 2003. Her research and writing on low-wage workers’ rights in the context of globalization has been published by top law journals and Harvard University Press. Earlier in her career, she founded the Workplace Project, a pioneering immigrant workers’ center. Gordon has received a MacArthur Fellowship and was recently named an “Outstanding Woman Lawyer” by the National Law Journal.
Frances Moore Lappé has authored nineteen books, including Diet for a Small Planet and, most recently, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want (with Adam Eichen). She cofounded Small Planet Institute and is the recipient of eighteen honorary degrees and the Right Livelihood Award, often described as the “alternative Nobel.”
Daniel A. Sumner is the director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center and Frank H. Buck, Jr., distinguished professor of agricultural and resource economics at University of California, Davis. His PhD in economics is from the University of Chicago. He was raised on a fruit farm in Suisun Valley, California.
Alice Waters is a chef, author, and food activist and the founder and owner of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. In 2015, for proving that eating is a political act and that the table is a powerful means to social justice and positive change, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama. Waters is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times best seller The Art of Simple Food and a memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook.