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Benjamin Jealous to join Wilson School

Benjamin Jealous will join the Wilson School of Public and International Affairs as the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor and Visiting Lecturer in Public and International Affairs next fall, according to Dean of the Wilson School Cecilia Rouse.

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Jealous is a former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and is currently a partner at Kapor Capital working on social impact startups.

"We are thrilled that he will be joining us; he will be joining us for a three year term — we hope it will be longer," Rouse said, adding that a stay of longer than three years would give Jealous the opportunity to be more entrenched in the University community.

Rouse added that in making appointments, she does so in response to academic needs or curricular fit; if the individual and the necessary funding are available, then Rouse invites the person to join the faculty.

When the Wilson School first reached out to Jealous, he was unavailable, as he was just stepping down from his position at the NAACP, Rouse said. A little while later, he became more interested in being part of an academic institution, so the discussion over his appointment started up again.

Rouse encourages students to reach out to Jealous when he arrives on campus next year.

"What we hope he'll bring is somebody who will certainly understand issues of racial justice and social justice, somebody who understands mobilizing groups of people to certainly serve the interest of those who have been less advantaged — people of color certainly," she said.

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One of the courses Jealous may be teaching in the fall is America 2050: Building Democracy for a Nation with No Racial Majority, she added.

"It's really about, how does one work in a diverse, divided society?" Rouse asked.

According to Rouse, Jealous is interested in the social impact of entrepreneurial startups in generating social change. Many students are interested in these newer, non-traditional mechanisms as modes of change.

The title of the courses Jealous may teach have not been finalized since Jealous' appointment only went through last week; however, another course that Jealous is interested in teaching might be entitled Smart, Safe and Right: Involving American Justice, Rouse said. Another course he is interested in developing is Social Change Beyond Public Policy, Social Impacts and Startups.

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The Wilson School faculty has also developed a portfolio of potential courses that Jealous would be comfortable with and interested in teaching.

Beyond teaching, Jealous will be part of the academic community and will engage with students to encourage them to participate in public events that the Woodrow Wilson School holds regularly.

Jealous said that the focus of his courses will be on topics including voter registration and the history of voter suppression. This includes looking at different periods of time from the past to the present, including the period of time after the Civil War and recent attempts by conservatives to suppress voter rights.

"It's actually looking at the policies underlying the bipartisan consensus against mass incarceration and the opportunity for us to make our country safer by embracing what works," Jealous said.

Jealous’ courses will also look at policy failures such as racial profiling; they will also highlight policy successes, such as the use of rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

He added that policy students need to understand what works and what does not work, and they need to understand at least 300 years of history in order to deal with the larger picture.

"We look at an issue like the ways of vote suppression, and if you only know 100 years of American history, then you know that it gets very similar to the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow," he said.

Jealous said if students understand more of American history, they will be better able to understand the dynamics around the exclusion of women and blacks from voting and job opportunities. Looking further back allows students to see why, at one point, leaders banned poor white men from voting and how similar this case is to the situation now, he added.

Jealous’ approach, finding what works and what does not, allows him to train activists, advocates and students. Making sure that students understand the history of similar problems in society also ensures that they will be informed about the most important aspects of the past and present, Jealous noted.

In light of the student protests that have taken place on campus and across the nation, Jealous said that students need to understand that their voices matter.

"Just because the cause is just doesn't mean that winning is easy," he added.

He said he encourages the students who protested in favor of removing the name of Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, from campus buildings to keep up the momentum until justice is accomplished. He noted that there are many battles to rename schools being waged across the nation and that the key is to never give up.

Jealous said that as a Rhodes Scholar, he received a Master of Science in Comparative Social Research from the University of Oxford. As a sophomore at Columbia University, he was approached about a scholarship program for junior students with the Wilson School, which was his first contact with graduate school programs.

"In any idea in life, getting the idea started counts as much as any after that," he said, referencing this important incident in his life.

Jealous said he is forever grateful to the Wilson School for inspiring him to pursue graduate and advanced studies in public policy, as well as Dean Rouse for welcoming him in.

"I look forward to being an engaged member of the faculty and an engaged member of the community," he said.

The NAACP and the American Center for Progress did not respond to a request for comment.

News Editor Jessica Li contributed reporting.

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