Martha Minow awarded Gittler Prize

The Harvard Law School dean delivered a lecture on bystanders, "upstanders," and privatization's increasing role in the world

Photo/Mike Lovett

Brandeis Interim President Lisa Lynch awards Martha Minow the Gittler Prize medal.

The annual Gittler Prize, which honors contributions to racial, ethnic or religious relations, was awarded to Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow at Brandeis Thursday.

"It's a distinct honor for Brandeis to recognize Martha Minow, one of the world’s leading figures in bringing legal ideas and scholarship to bear on issues of identity, race and inequality as this year's Gittler Prize winner," said Brandeis Interim President Lisa Lynch at the ceremony and lecture.

Minow is a thought leader and innovator in approaches to reconciling divided peoples. Her lecture focused on bystanders — those who remain silent and passive in the face of bigotry and injustice — and "upstanders," those who stand up for their beliefs, even if they are alone. Upstanders are critical actors in bringing about change, but how they go about taking a stand can make all the difference, Minow explained.

"Understanding what lever of power works for addressing any kind of injustice is the first step to being an effective upstander, and not understanding what lever of power is relevant is a mistake and a divergence," Minow said. "(Determining) who actually has the power to make the changes on any subject should be a critical step in any analysis."

Students from Harvard Law School and Brandeis, including students from the Ford Hall 2015 movement, interrupted the event with signs and call-and-response chants to focus attention and awareness on the ongoing effort at Harvard Law School to reform programs and add new curriculum in order to improve the atmosphere for underrepresented minorities, and to change the school's crest. The crest is associated with Isaac Royall, who endowed Harvard’s first professorship in law, and was New England's most prominent slave trader in the 18th century.

Minow praised the group as “upstanders” of the sort she was describing.

"It's thrilling to see students engaged and ‘upstanding,’ and it's delightful to have a chance to talk about work that I and others have been doing for some time," Minow said in response to the protesters. "And it's an honor to be here at Brandeis, a school that shows such commitment to this kind of engagement."

Minow's talk also focused on how publicly overseen entities are becoming increasingly privatized, an issue she said needs to be more frequently opened for debate, and is in need of support from more “upstanders.” As an example, she pointed to water supplies, which are being increasingly purchased by private providers, as an emerging issue of privatization.

"People will not be able to have access to an essential resource to live because of the profit-making activities of private companies that are not regulated," Minow said. "My hope is not to advocate for any particular rule or solution, but instead to ask: Does anyone care?"

University Professor Anita Hill introduced Minow, noting that Minow has dedicated her career to viewing the world from the perspective of those who are excluded, and to eradicating distinctions that unreasonably separate people.

“Despite the demands of her deanship, Martha Minow continues to teach to produce cutting edge scholarship and to engage with the public on important issues of the day,” Hill said. "…We are fortunate to have her here today and we are fortunate to know that her work continues.”

The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize was created in 2007 by the late professor Joseph B. Gittler to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations. It is named for Gittler and his mother, Toby. The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Endowed Fund at Brandeis University supports the annual award, which also includes a $25,000 prize and a medal.

Previous Gittler prizewinners include Gustavo Gutierrez (2014) and Patricia Hill Collins '69, PhD'84 (2013). The prize is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President of Brandeis University. The lecture was part of the Louis D. Brandeis 100: Then and Now Centennial Celebration series.

Video of Minow’s talk and of an on-campus interview will be available on the Gittler Prize website.

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