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Dorothy Roberts, the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge professor

October 05, 2012

Dorothy Roberts joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professor with joint appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Law School, where she is the inaugural Raymond Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander ED’18, GR’21, L’27 Professor of Civil Rights. 

Founded in 2005, the PIK program has recruited scholars whose research and teaching exemplify the integration of knowledge. Roberts’ transformative work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in health, social justice, and bioethics. 

Roberts spoke with Penn Law’s Office of Communications to discuss her cross-disciplinary research and teaching.



My name is Dorothy Roberts and I am the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor; George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology; and the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the Law School.

President Amy Gutmann started the PIK professorship program in 2005 to recruit faculty to Penn whose research interests and teaching span across different disciplines, and integrate the knowledge from different disciplines in their work. I think my work fits perfectly in that way of thinking about research, teaching, and scholarship because I’ve always tried to use insights from a multiple number of disciplines - not only law and sociology, but also bioethics, history, and now even the life sciences to get a better understanding of how social policy and laws are shaped by social inequality.

And so I try to integrate not only methods from various disciplines, but also look at the way in which we can use these methods across disciplines to understand the intersection or integration of different systems of inequality, like race and gender and poverty in social policies and big institutions like the child welfare system, or like the practice of medicine or biomedical research.

One of the main things that attracted me to Penn was the way in which the whole intellectual community at this university is so geared towards interdisciplinary research and engagement. I was able in other universities to create a kind of interdisciplinary home for myself, but it wasn’t as supported by the whole university and as embraced by the whole university as I find at Penn. And that’s why I am so excited about the PIK professorship, because coming from the very top levels of the university and throughout all aspects I’ve seen at Penn, the importance of integrating knowledge is really at the forefront.

Transcript edited for length.