The annual Valerie Gordon Human Rights Lecture celebrates the memory of the late Valerie Gordon ’93, a fierce advocate for human rights in the US and internationally. The lecture brings outstanding lawyers, judges, scholars and advocates who work to advance human rights to deliver a keynote address at the law school. In conjunction with the lecture, the law school’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association sponsors a human rights essay contest for first year law students. The author of the winning essay is given “The Spirit of Valerie Gordon” award, presented at the lecture each spring. 

Valerie Gordon Book Award
Friday, April 27, 2018 | 3:00 PM | 230 Dockser
Hakeem M. Muhammad '20 is the winner of the 2018 Valerie Gordon essay contest. His winning essay is entitled, “Angela Davis: A South African Moment for Palestine.” 

Valerie Gordon Human Rights Lecturers 

Bryan Stevenson and Siri Nelson2017

Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama
September 5, 2017: "Young People Changing the World: Four Powerful Steps"

Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He's the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

EJI recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, and has been awarded 14 honorary doctorate degrees. Bryan is the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. (view photos)

Valerie Gordon Essay Contest
Siri Nelson '19 was the winner of the 2017 Valerie Gordon essay contest for her essay entitled, "Black Lives Matter in Every Town: An Argument for Scaling Up Existing Reconciliatory Practices in the United States."


Morten KjaerumMorten Kjaerum, Director, Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Sweden
April 13, 2016: "Racism and Inclusion: Where is Europe Headed?"
Morten Kjaerum is director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Sweden. Morten KjaerumPreviously, he was the first director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna from 2008 to 2015. He is also currently chair of the board of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

Mr. Kjaerum was the founding drector of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), where he served from 1991 until 2008, and developed it from a small organisation to a large internationally recognized institution. He started his career in the non-governmental sector at the Danish Refugee Council.

Mr. Kjaerum was the chairperson of the Network of Directors of EU Agencies in 2014-2015. He was a member (2002-2008) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and its follow-up rapporteur from 2006 until 2008. He was a member of the EU network of independent experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2002-2006). In 2004, he was elected chair of the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions. (view photos)


Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU and Director of its Human Rights Program
March 18, 2015: "Guantánamo and the Legacy of Torture"
Jameel Jaffer, (@JameelJaffer) is deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and director of its Center for Jameel Jaffer Democracy, which houses the organization's work on human rights, national security, free speech, privacy, and technology. Jaffer has for years been at the center of the national and international debate around the detainment center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In this 22nd Valerie Gordon Memorial Lecture, Jaffer discussed the ways in which the treatment of Guantánamo prisoners is contributing to a legacy that will influence the global image of the US for decades to come. "The 2015 lecture took place in the context of the installation, at Northeastern University, of a traveling multimedia exhibition hosted by the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. " The exhibit was entitled, "Confronting Guántanamo: A Contested Place, A Controversial Past, A Questionable Future.

Photo credit: Alice Ristroph


Penelope "Penny" Andrews, Dean and President, Albany Law School (view photos)


Philp Alston, John Norton Pomerory Professor of Law, New York University School of Law (watch now)


Terry McGovern, Senior Program Officer, Human Right Division, Ford Foundation (view now)


Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor of Law and Development and Director of the Program on Human Rights and Justice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (watch now)


The Honorable Manuel Cepeda, Constitutional Court of Colombia (watch now)


Hauwa Ibrahim, Nigerian Human Rights Lawyer


Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, United Nations (download the flyer)


Dean Harold Koh, Yale Law School


Professor Carol Anderson, University of Missouri-Columbia


Jaribu Hill , Executive Director and Founder, Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights


Professor Gerard Quinn, National Univerity of Ireland, Ireland


Professor Abdullahi An-Na'im, Emory University School of Law


Professor Charles Ogletree Jr, Harvard Law School


Dean Makau Mutua, SUNY-Buffalo School of Law


Professor Adrien Wing, University of Iowa College of Law


Loretta Ross, Executive Director, Center for Human Rights Education


The Honorable Albert Louis Sachs, Constitutional Court of South Africa


Franic Mading Deng, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution


The Honorable Nathaniel Jones, US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit


The Honorable Dessima Williams, UN Ambassador, Grenada


Randall Robinson, Executive Director, TransAfrica

BLSA Human Rights Essay Contest

Each year, in conjunction with the Valerie Gordon Lecture, the law school's chapter of the Black Law Students Association sponsors a human rights essay contest for first-year law students. The essay topic is announced annually by BLSA, and "The Spirit of Valerie Gordon Award" is presented at the Gordon Lecture each spring.