Jennifer Lackey, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, was awarded the 2023 Horace Mann Medal by Brown University’s Graduate School.
The medal “is given annually to a Brown Graduate School alumnus or alumna who has made significant contributions in his or her field, inside or outside of academia.” Professor Lackey earned her Ph.D. from Brown in 2000.
Lackey is, by any measure, one of the top intellectual leaders in her field. But she is also one of those scholars who has taken extremely seriously her mission to apply her scholarly expertise outside the academy in a way that contributes to society at large.
Professor Lackey is the author of the forthcoming Criminal Testimonial Injustice (Oxford, 2023), The Epistemology of Groups (Oxford, 2021), and Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge (Oxford 2008), along with many articles and other writings. She is also editor-in-chief of Episteme and co-editor-in-chief of Philosophical Studies.
Lackey’s work with the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) has been transformative, both for those incarcerated and for her own work in philosophy. NPEP has grown since its launch in 2018 to include 100 incarcerated students from across the state of Illinois and its first cohort of students will make history this fall when they graduate with bachelor’s degrees from Northwestern University.
Pierre James, one of her students at Stateville Correctional Center says, “Jennifer Lackey, through her selflessness, has made the impossible possible. She entered a place of misery and created an environment of hope thriving in academia. She breathes life and love into all of us. Because of her positive energy in my life, everyday I’m a better man than I was the day before.” His classmate, Lynn Green, concurs, saying that “On this tumultuous journey, searching for knowledge, striving for excellence, we found ourselves.”
The impact of the program has been enormous, not only for the students enrolled in it, but also for their families and communities. As Stateville student Brandon Perkins says, “My father and my cousin (who was more like the older brother I never had) went to prison before me, plus a handful of other relatives. For me, NPEP is the hammer that will break the generational chain of incarceration that has plagued my family.”
Professor Lackey recently won a $300,000 grant from Northwestern to launch a new “global project on epistemic reparations”:
In collaboration with a highly interdisciplinary group of colleagues, including historians, journalists, lawyers, artists, social scientists, and other philosohers, Lackey aims to expand the UN’s framework of human rights so that it explicitly recognizes our right to epistemic reparations, including the “right to be known”—to have our stories of gross violations of our human rights acknowledged by others. With work situated in South Africa, Canada, and Ukraine, as well as in Chicago and Evanston, the project will bring academic theory into direct contact with real world concerns.
As part of the award, Professor Lackey will present her ideas about epistemic reparations in a commencement forum at Brown later this month.