Friday, May 31, 2019
Good morning! I’m Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. It’s my honor to welcome you all to Radcliffe Day 2019—my inaugural Radcliffe Day as dean!
I’m delighted that my first year at the helm of the Institute culminates in this program honoring a woman who’s a visionary leader and a legendary civil rights and labor activist: Dolores Huerta.
It’s our aim this Radcliffe Day to celebrate Dolores and to call attention to the centrality of civic engagement to a healthy democratic society and to securing equity and opportunity for all.
Today, we’ll hear from Dolores as she reflects on more than 60 years fighting for justice and looks ahead at the work that remains to achieve full equality and dignity for the poor and the marginalized.
This afternoon, Dolores will engage in conversation with Soledad O’Brien, the esteemed journalist, author, and philanthropist—and Radcliffe College alumna. Soledad is founder and CEO of Starfish Media Group as well as anchor and producer of the program Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. She has appeared as an anchor and reporter on all three broadcast networks and on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera.
Soledad is at work on a documentary addressing the often under-looked yet serious problem of food insecurity on college campuses across the United States. So she is, we thought, the perfect moderator for today’s program.
Food insecurity among college students is symptomatic of deep and multifaceted challenges within this country’s food system.
The USDA estimates that 12 percent of US households experienced food insecurity over the course of 2017—the most recent year for which statistics are available. This is down from a high of 15 percent in 2011, yet still higher than in the immediate years leading up to the Great Recession of 2008. Households with children, single-parent households, and the households of racial and ethnic minorities are even more likely to be food insecure.
That this level of food insecurity exists and persists alongside historically low unemployment and globally unprecedented food abundance should give us pause. Meanwhile, that very abundance has been linked to ongoing environmental degradation. And our country faces an obesity epidemic that adversely affects health and costs roughly 150 billion dollars per year in direct medical costs alone.
Moreover, the workers who produce our food often labor under inhumane conditions. Our medalist has struggled against this manifest injustice since the late 1950s. Speaking on a university campus in 1974, Dolores implored her audience, quote:
You have a responsibility to farmworkers, because the farmworkers feed you. . . . And when people say to you that they don’t want to walk [for justice], remind them that a farmworker has to walk thousands of miles in his lifetime to feed you, to put food on your table.
Despite some progress over the intervening decades, let me dispel any illusion that all is well among agricultural laborers and their families. Farmworkers continue to be among the most vulnerable in our country.
So, we begin today with a panel that aims to unpack these systemic issues and grapple with the key question: How can we create a food system that ensures just labor practices and equitable access to ethical, sustainable, and healthy food?
Soledad will moderate the discussion, and she’s joined by distinguished experts and activists whose work engages with the food system from five distinct perspectives.
I’m grateful to each of our panelists for joining us. In a moment, Soledad will introduce them, then they’ll each share brief framing remarks, followed by a discussion.
Before the panel begins, let me call your attention to a Radcliffe Day “first”—one that we’re very proud of. In addition to the programming on this stage, we’re spotlighting a number of organizations engaged in service and research at the intersection of food and justice. Inspiring individuals and organizations are here in our Marketplace of Ideas in the Sunken Garden to share their work and expertise with you.
If you didn’t have a chance to visit the Marketplace this morning, you’ll have another opportunity during the hour-long break following the panel at 11:30.
I hope you’ll take a moment to visit some of the organizations in the garden and consider how you can engage in the critical work of pursuing a just and equitable food system.
Now, it’s my pleasure to turn things over to Soledad O’Brien and the panel. Please join me in giving her and our panelists a warm welcome.