The Inequality Project was conceived by Dean Jelani Cobb as a pairing of social science and journalism in the service of highlighting not only the current inequities in American society but their roots and the ways in which these dynamics have been created and recreated over time.
In the tempestuous summer of 2020, the nation witnessed a pandemic, a pandemic-inspired recession and egregious examples of unwarranted use of fatal force by law enforcement. It was readily apparent that communities of color were disproportionately impacted by all three of these concerns. Yet the dialogues around these issues tended to be particular and siloed. A perplexed public asked, “How did we get here?” The answers to that question were as complex and historical as the moment was tumultuous. Uncovering Inequality is one attempt at answering not only that question but looking at where these issues appear to be heading.
In 2021, the Ira A. Lipman Center Project commissioned five scholars to gather social science data on inequality in the following areas: housing, criminal justice, education, healthcare and economics. The objective was to present a detailed overview of what social science has learned about inequality in these sectors in the 20th century and thus far in the 21st century. The research teams produced comprehensive and seminal reports on their findings, which were then reviewed by a team of advisers and edited by journalists.
The subject-areas were not discrete – people’s lives are not discrete. Criminal justice disparities played a role in healthcare and economic disparities, and in turn economic disparities clearly impacted educational disparities and so on. Thus, the reports offer a multitude of story ideas for reporters and news organizations.
Our hope is that both as part of an initial reports, and as a prompt for additional, more contemporary reporting, we will shed light on the mechanisms that produce racial inequality in the United States and how they might be disrupted.
The Lipman Center will release the reports at the all-day symposium "Uncovering Inequality" on March 20. Links to all five reports will be available on March 20.
Uncovering Inequality Research Scholars:
- Vesla Weaver, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore; a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and faculty affiliate of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale University
- David J. Knight, assistant professor of sociology, Columbia University
- Damon Jones, associate professor, the University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy
- Bradley Hardy, associate professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University
- Dania V. Francis, assistant professor of economics, the University of Massachusetts
- Fern Ramoutar, economics Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
- Daniel Cumming, post-doctoral fellow program in racism, immigration and citizenship, Johns Hopkins University
- Nick Graetz, postdoctoral research associate, Princeton University
- Juontel White, senior vice president of programs and advocacy, Schott Foundation for Public Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Diana Cordova-Cobo, Ph.D. candidate in the sociology and education program at Teachers College, Columbia University
- Hedwig Lee, professor of sociology, Duke University
- Michael Esposito, assistant professor of sociology, Washington University, St. Louis
- Margaret Hicken, research associate professor, Survey Research Center, University of Michigan; faculty associate, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan; research associate professor, internal medicine, Medical School; research associate professor, epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Michigan
Uncovering Inequality Advisers:
- N. D. B. Connolly, Herbert Baxter Adams Chair and associate professor of history, Johns Hopkins University
- Mary R. Jackman, professor emerita and research professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis
- Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government
- Suresh Naidu, professor of economics and public affairs, Columbia University
- Samuel K. Roberts, director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, associate professor history and associate professor sociomedical sciences, Columbia University
- Kimberlee Shauman, professor of sociology, the University of California, Davis
- Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, associate professor of English education at Teachers College, Columbia University
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American Studies, Princeton University
The Lipman Dialogues
The Lipman Dialogues are succinct, timely discussions with people at the center of issues relating to civil and human rights. Each dialogue focuses upon a single issue and a single journalist, activist, political figure or changemaker connected to it. We hope that by presenting these dialogues we will equip our viewers not only with an understanding of the urgent issues confronting us but also what can be done to address them.
- March 2022: Jelani Cobb with Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Futures Lab.
- February 2022: Jelani Cobb with Mary Jackman and Kim Shauman, sociologists at the University of California, Davis, who discussed the systemic neglect of Black American health and the high mortality rate.
- January 2022: Jelani Cobb with Howard French, author of "Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War."
- October 2021: Jelani Cobb with Kathy Gannon, AP's news director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who covers the Taliban and women in Afghanistan.
April 2022: "The Scales of Justice: Reporting on Policing, Prisons and Criminal Justice"
Panels moderated by Jelani Cobb, featuring winners of the Lipman Center’s inaugural Initiative in Reporting on Race and Criminal Justice Grants. Panelists: Pulitzer Prize winners Ashley Remkus and John Archibald from AL.com; Pulitzer Prize winners Margie Mason and Robin MacDowell from The Associated Press; writer Samantha Michaels and data journalist Ryan Kelly from Mother Jones; Julieta Martinelli from Futura Media Group; Brittney Martin, independent journalist.
“Whose Vote Counts?”
The vulnerability of the sacred right to vote in the United States was exposed during the 2020 presidential election. PBS FRONTLINE spent a year investigating voter suppression in collaboration with documentary filmmaker June Cross of the Columbia Journalism School, Columbia Journalism Investigations, USA Today and Jelani Cobb, director of Columbia’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights.
The film “Whose Vote Counts?” debuted Oct. 20, 2020. The Lipman Center held a panel discussion on the work in November with Steve Coll, dean of Columbia Journalism School as moderator, and panelists Jelani Cobb, June Cross, Tom Jennings of Frontline, and Steve Stirling of CJI.
April 2021: "Race in America: Covering Far-Right Extremism"
A panel moderated by Jelani Cobb. Panelists: Historian Kathleen Belew, author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America” and co-editor of the forthcoming "A Field Guide to White Supremacy," which gathers resources for journalists covering racial violence, white nationalism, and other issues of inequality and Nina Berman, professor of journalism at Columbia and an award-winning documentary photographer who has tracked white supremacy for the past two years.
March 2021: "Race in America: Violence Against Asians"
A panel moderated by Jelani Cobb. Panelists: historian Ellen Wu, professor of history and director of Asian American studies at Indiana University Bloomington, and author of "The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority" and Jiayang Fu, a staff writer at the New Yorker who has covered violence against Asians and China and American politics.
Born Free and Equal: A Symposium on Journalism and Civil and Human Rights
The center held a full-day symposium on April 1, 2019, that included two panels:
- “Crisis and Crucible: The Landscape of Civil and Human Rights in 2019.” Panelists included two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Martha Mendoza, National Writer for The Associated Press; Carol Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of New York Times best seller "White Rage"; and Jenni Monet, investigative journalist of Native American issues. Moderator: Ginger Thompson, senior reporter at ProPublica and adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School.
- “Perspectives: A Dialogue With Ta-Nehisi Coates and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.” Coates is a New York Times best-selling author and former writer for The Atlantic; Hunter-Gault is a civil rights activist and former journalist who has worked for National Public Radio, PBS MacNeil/Lehrer Report, The New York Times, among others. Moderator: Jelani Cobb.
Lipman Center Fellows Discuss Their Projects
- 2022: Chris Gelardi, a narrative and investigative journalist based in New York whose work recently has focused on American colonialism in the Caribbean and Pacific; Brandi Kellam, producer and reporter for CBS News who focuses on criminal justice reform; Madalyn Mendoza, a reporter with My San Antonio, who covers social justice issues. Jelani Cobb.
- 2021: Kovie Biakolo, a journalist and writer specializing in culture and identity, talks about the plight of Black migrants at the southern border; Brittney Martin, an investigative reporter, researcher and narrative writer, presents her podcast on convict leasing and the old prison in Sugar Land, Texas, where convicts died working the sugar cane plantation; Seyma Bayram, a reporter at the Akron Beacon Journal, talks about economic segregation in Ohio. Jelani Cobb.
- 2020: Clair MacDougall, who has written for The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Foreign Policy and others, discussed her fellowship investigation on the abuse of repatriated Guantanamo detainees; Ann Marie Cunningham, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation and elsewhere and who is a New York Times best-selling author, talked about her story on the rise of domestic violence against Black and Native American women in Mississippi. Moderator: Jelani Cobb.
- 2019: Adam Serwer, a writer with The Atlantic, discussed his fellowship work on the civil rights movement; Alice Speri, staff writer at The Intercept, reported on her investigation of police and FBI labeling Black protestors extremists; Dan Vock, former writer for Governing magazine, wrote about realtors and school segregation; Maura Walz, news editor at Southern California Public Radio, discussed her Lipman grant to do a portrait of the Virginia school she attended as a child that is now segregated. Moderator: Jelani Cobb.
- 2018: Monica Rhor, editorial writer and member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board, covered the criminalization of Black girls for her fellowship; Kira Lerner, a reporter at The Appeal, wrote about the voting rights of former convicts. Moderator: Jelani Cobb.
Brown Bag Chats With Columbia Journalism Investigations
Designed to help emerging reporters learn how to cover race and equity issues responsibly:
Marianne Engelman-Lado and Vernice Miller-Travis, April 29, 2021
This session featured two veteran civil rights and social justice advocates who have worked to combat environmental racism affecting communities of color across the country and at the federal level. Marianne Engelman-Lado is a law professor who established the environmental justice law clinic at Vermont Law School and a deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency. Vernice Miller-Travis is a recipient of the Sierra Club’s Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award.
Monica Rhor, a 2018 Lipman Fellow, March 23, 2021
Monica Rhor, story editor at Chalkbeat and a 2018 Lipman Fellow, discussed her work reporting a series of stories about the criminalization of black girls in Houston and how the juvenile system contributes to high incarceration and poverty rates for black women and their families.
Hilton Kelley, Ben Eaton and Melissa Miles, February 23, 2021
This session featured resident-activists from communities of color that have been thrust into the media spotlight because of environmental discrimination, natural disaster and other social issues. Our guests provided a firsthand account of what it is like to be on the receiving end of reporters’ questions and give advice for how reporters can approach and develop sources within communities that might differ from their own backgrounds.
Dan Vock, a 2019 Lipman Center Fellow January 26, 2021
Freelance reporter Dan Vock broke down his investigation into Great Schools, an online company that assigns schools grades. His investigation found that the company makes neighborhood segregation worse.
Mary Annaïse Heglar, former writer-in-residence at Columbia’s Earth Institute, December 22, 2020
Mary Annaise Heglar’s climate justice essays have appeared in the New Republic, Boston Globe, and more. She shared her advocate perspective on reporters covering climate change and environmental justice — what we miss, what we do right and how we might approach sources different from us in order to better illuminate climate's unequal burdens.
Adam Serwer, a 2019 Lipman Center Fellow, November 24, 2020
Adam Serwer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, deconstructed the reporting he did as a Lipman fellow on free-speech limitations on people from marginalized groups and how these prevent them from participating in debates over their fundamental rights.
Angela Lang, director of Black Leaders Organizing Communities, in Wisconsin, October 27, 2020
Angela Lang is a 28-year old Milwaukee native who founded BLOC in 2017 to engage more people to vote in her native city, which some consider the most segregated American city. She spoke about the grassroots efforts in communities of color to get out the vote in the 2020 election.
Kira Lerner, a 2018 Lipman Center Fellow, September 29, 2020
Kira Lerner, a staff writer at The Appeal, has spent years covering voter suppression, disenfranchisement and voting rights. She deconstructed her work as a Lipman fellow examining a Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement law in Florida that prevented hundreds of African Americans from participating in the voting process.