Human rights scholar Martha Minow on civil rights, race and gender at commencement

Human rights scholar Martha Minow addressed around 30,000 graduates and guests at NYU’s 191st commencement ceremony in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, after receiving an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the university. 

Minow, the former dean of Harvard Law School and holder of Harvard University’s highest professorship, delivered NYU’s commencement address on behalf of this year’s honorary degree recipients, Nobel Prize-winner and diplomacy expert Ouided Bouchamaoui and Nobel Prize-winner and biochemist Katalin Karikó. 

In her speech, Minow cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and the Civil Rights Movement as she criticized demonizing others in fights against injustice. She said King’s letter “endures because it makes palpable how justice is and must be” when recognizing that “all of us are interconnected despite social divisions and stark disagreements.” 

“Inequality enchains people in hierarchies not of their making, spelling advantage and disadvantage,” Minow said. “The world has indeed recognized the heroism of the nonviolent civil rights movement participants in stories recounted in schools, during holidays, and at memorial structures, teaching new generations.”

Minow criticized bills aiming to restrict instruction by schools or employers about race and civil rights history across the country. Minow said these laws prohibit instruction that “may make some people feel they bear personal responsibility” for discrimination based on race, gender or national origin. She also said that “often deeply flawed” ideas of racial and gender hierarchy, as well as of religions and disabilities, “inform people’s fears and beliefs.” 

As an expert in human rights and international law, Minow served on a commission that proposed solutions to the United Nations regarding armed conflict and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. She also helped launch a UN program that worked to ensure peace in the aftermath of international conflicts, as well as a center focusing on combating violent extremism

“My hope is that we can learn from patterns of division and polarization to anticipate backlash, to mobilize transformative practices along with cultural creativity,” Minow said. “How can we build durable activities and institutions to advance justice and to strengthen fair and peaceful dealing despite ongoing disagreements?” 

In addition to her honorary degree from NYU, Minow has received nine other honorary degrees, having also published and edited more than a dozen books focusing on topics including genocide, mass violence and constitutional law. 

This year’s commencement comes amid heightened tensions between the university’s administration and pro-Palestinian protesters, with NYU president Linda Mills having faced heavy criticism for her approach to demonstrations — including the authorization of dozens of student and faculty arrests — as well as pressure to do more in her handling of antisemitism on campus. Many in Yankee Stadium’s stands booed Mills as she presented Minow and the other recipients with their honorary degrees. 

“Demonizing others unleashes a deeper problem,” Minow said. “Even when motivated by righteousness against injustice, demonizing others opens passions that can destroy and shame, spurring new rounds of dehumanizing violence. Resisting that path while mobilizing against injustice is emotionally and intellectually hard.”

Contact Yezen Saadah at

This story Human rights scholar Martha Minow on civil rights, race and gender at commencement appeared first on Washington Square News.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.