Dorothy Roberts

Dorothy Roberts is the George A. Weiss Professor of Law & Sociology, the Raymond Pace & Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and Professor of Africana Studies. She is also the founding Director of the Program on Race, Science and Society. With appointments in Penn Carey Law and the School of Arts & Sciences, Roberts works at the intersection of law, social justice, science and health. 

Law, Sociology & Africana Studies

dorothy roberts

Challenging assumptions and illuminating injustices is all in a day’s work for the whirlwind that is Dorothy Roberts. Her research catalogues the consequences of racial inequities for women, children, families and communities—and counters scientific tenets about racial identity. Her scholarly achievements, teaching excellence, collegiate involvement and compassionate advocacy make Roberts an inspirational force across Penn’s campus and beyond.

Roberts’ impact is most evident at Penn in the groundbreaking Program on Race, Science and Society. Penn’s unparalleled leadership—and scholars in schools across campus as eager as Roberts to bring fresh perspectives to emerging social justice issues—made Penn the perfect place for the program. After a powerful inaugural colloquium that catalyzed the campus in 2014, Roberts continues to engage with the social and life sciences communities to explore the role of race in scientific research, biotechnological innovations, and health services and outcomes. The program builds on her head-turning critique of race-based genomic science—an argument that racial identity is a social and political invention, not a biological fact coded in DNA. 

The program illustrates Roberts’ ability to change national conversations, bring about positive social change and put research into practice in public service. In earlier work, she connected the dots between racial justice and disparities in foster care. Her writing was also foundational to the now widely used concept of “reproductive justice” to advocate for expanded procreative freedoms, including the childbearing rights of women of color. Ms. magazine ranks her work on that topic in its top 100 nonfiction feminist books of all time—an indication, like her super-active Twitter account, of how well she blurs boundaries between academia and popular culture. 

Roberts’ current book project is deeply personal—completing her father’s life’s work. His bequest to her was more than 500 interviews he conducted with interracial couples in Chicago between 1937 and 1980. The project dovetails with her research and influential life experiences—from growing up during the Civil Rights Movement to her heritage as a daughter of an interracial marriage.  

  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Bioethics
  • Civil Rights Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Child Welfare
  • Feminist Theory
  • Reroductive Justice
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Science and Society

Books (Selected)

Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race In The Twenty-First Century2011

Sex, Power, and Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond (with Rhoda Reddock, Dianne Douglas, and Sandra Reid), 2009

Shattered Bonds: The Color Of Child Welfare, 2001

Killing The Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Mean of Liberty, 1997


Academic Writings (Selected)

Law, Race, and Biotechnology: Toward a Biopolitical and Transdisciplinary Paradigm, 9 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 149-166 (2013).

Prison, Foster Care, and the Systematic Punishment of Black Mothers, 59 UCLA L. REV. 1474 (2012).

Debating the Cause of Health Disparities -- Implications for Bioethics and Racial Equality, 21 CAMBRIDGE Q. HEALTHCARE ETHICS 332 (2012).

Race, Gender, and the Conflation of Biological and Social Issues, 9 DUBOIS REV. 235 (2012) (book review).

The Social Context of Oncofertility, 61 DEPAUL L. REV. 777 (2012).

Race, Gender, and Genetic Technologies: A New Reroductive Dystophia?, 34SIGNS 783 (2009).

The Racial Geography of Child Welfare: Toward a New Research Paradigm, 87 CHILD WELFARE125 (2008).

The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African American Communities, 56 STANFORD LAW REVIEW 1271 (2004).

Spiritual and Menial Housework, 9 YALE JOURNAL OF LAW & FEMINISM 51 (1997).

Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and The Right of Privacy, 104 HARVARD LAW REVIEW 1419 (1991).

For a complete listing of publications, visit Roberts' faculty page at Penn Law. 

Interviews & Features (Selected)

"Is It Time to Stop Using Race in Medical Research?NPR, February 5, 2016 (with Sarah Tishkoff)

"Racial Surveillance Has a Long History," The Hill, January 4, 2015 (with Jeffrey Vagle)

"Parenting Rights, Child Supervision and the Law," Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, July 28, 2014

"Penn Symposium Tackles Race, Science, and Society," Penn Current, April 3, 2014

"Roe at 40 Podcast Series: Interview with Dorothy Roberts," Center for American Progress, April 22, 2013 [podcast]

"Interview of Professor Dorothy Roberts," The Center for Africana Studies, September 24, 2012

"The Biggest Lie About Race? That It's Real," The Root, July 26, 2011

"The Dubios, Dangerous Science of Race Lives On, Says Scholar," ColorLines: News for Action, September 23, 2011

"Dorothy Roberts Appointed Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor," Penn News, April 17, 2012


Follow @dorothyeroberts

Video (Selected)

"Is There a Racial 'Care Gap' in Medical Treatment?PBS News Hour, April 5, 2016

"The Problem with Race-Based Medicine," TEDMED,  2015

"The Power of World-Changing Ideas," University of Pennsylvania Communications, 2013

"Prof. Dorothy Roberts on Use of Race as Biological Category," Penn Law, October 15, 2012

"Law Professor-Author Dorothy Roberts," The Tavis Smiley Show, September 22, 2011

"Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race," Vanderbilt University Presentation, October 30, 2012

George A. Weiss


“The way to ensure the continued greatness of Penn is to invest in the people. With this program, we're going to recruit even more superstar faculty and catapult this University to a new level of eminence."  

- George A. Weiss 

In 2010, George Weiss, W'65, HON'14, together with his wife, Lydia, endowed four Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professorships, adding to his extensive philanthropic legacy of support for Penn's highest priorities. George Weiss is a University of Pennsylvania Trustee Emeritus and a member of the Executive Committee of the Penn Medicine Board. He is a 1985 recipient of the Alumni Award of Merit, the University's highest alumni honor. In 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Pennsylvania.  

  • Karen Glanz was appointed the George A. Weiss University Professor in June 2009.
  • Dorothy Roberts was appointed the George A. Weiss University Professor in April 2012.
  • Rakesh Vohra was appointed the George A. Weiss and Lydia Bravo Weiss University Professor in May 2013.
  • Aviv Nevo was appointed the George A. Weiss and Lydia Bravo Weiss University Professor in January 2016.
  • J.D., Harvard Law School
  • B.A., Yale College


University Service
Professional Positions & Affiliations
  • The Hastings Center, fellow
  • California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Standards Working Group, member
  • Family Defense Center, Advisory Board, member
  • Center for Genetics & Society, Advisory Board, member
Additional Penn Profiles

Penn Carey Law
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Penn Arts & Sciences
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