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Higher education could be a powerful force for equity and democracy—but it must face up to its history of racial injustice first.

Author of The State Must Provide: The Definitive History of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education | Staff Writer at The Atlantic

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Racial Equality and the Future of Education (20:04)

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How Did America’s Colleges Become So Unequal? (3:39)

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Universities and Their Role in Repair of Legacies of Slavery (9:53)

Lavin Exclusive Speaker

America’s higher education system is a vital tool for building a diverse, equitable, and healthy democracy. But at our colleges and universities, Black students are systemically denied an equal chance to succeed. This discrimination must be addressed. But how? In his phenomenal book, The State Must Provide, Adam Harris reveals the definitive history of racial inequality in American higher education—and how we can set it right. The New York Times calls it “a must read, detailing the complex dynamics that both reflect our nation’s dark history and show us the way toward a more equitable future.” In practical and passionate talks, Adam reminds us that, “in a moment where democratic principles are being attacked, it’s critical that these institutions not only be strengthened, but—in taking account of history—made better.”

The State Must Provide is a book that both taught me so much and also kept me on the edge of my seat. It is an invaluable text from a supremely talented writer.—Clint Smith, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How the Word Is Passed

America’s higher education institutions are at a crossroads, says Adam Harris: “a moment that will define who gets in, who is teaching, and what they can teach.” In his book The State Must Provide, he explores the racial inequality that marks the foundations of American higher education, and shows us how to set it right. At a moment where every college and university across the country is grappling with questions of diversity, fairness, and citizenship, Adam’s insights are vital for the work ahead.

The State Must Provide has been praised as “a well-researched, potent, timely investigation” (Kirkus starred review) and “a worthy contribution to the debate over how to make American education more equitable” (Publishers Weekly). In it, Adam traces the history of higher education in this country, from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to affirmative action. He grapples with the history of a system that has never given Black students a fair chance, and offers a path towards a better, more equitable future.

Adam is also the author of the forthcoming Is This America?, a history of the South’s role in national politics, and how the region shapes us as a nation (although not always in the ways we assume it does). In it, he explores what a shift in the political landscape of the South would mean for the nation as a whole. As the South continues to define the national debate around crucial issues like education and reproductive rights, he helps us better understand the roadblocks that keep us from a more progressive region, and where we can go from here.

An award-winning journalist and staff writer at The Atlantic, Adam covers education and national politics. Previously, he was a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he covered federal education policy and historically black colleges and universities. He has also worked at ProPublica, and was a 2021 National Fellow at New America. He was named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and his writing has appeared in BBC, Bleacher Report, and EBONY Magazine.

Speech Topics

Diversity & Race
The State Must ProvideHow to Set America's Higher Education System Right

Higher education in this country has never given Black students an equal chance to succeed—but we’re at a crossroads right now where we can choose to set things right, says Adam Harris. The founders believed that higher education was one of the most important vehicles for a nation to build good citizens and ensure a healthy democracy. In a moment where our democratic principles are at risk, Adam shows us not only how to strengthen these institutions, but how to grapple with their history of racial injustice, and make them better for the future.

In this talk, Adam draws from his book The State Must Provide to give audiences a compelling overview of the history of America’s higher education system. Pulling examples from history, his reporting, and his own educational background, he shows you not only why schools must value racial equality, but also what you and your organization can do to build more equitable structures and ensure success for all students. Audiences will walk away better able to deal with the shifting landscape of higher education as it grapples with critical questions of diversity, fairness, and citizenship.

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Politics & Society
Is This America?How the Politics of the South Shape the America We Live in Today

Over the last few years, Southern states like Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi have defined the national debate around issues like education, reproductive rights, voting rights, and more. They’ve reshaped K-12 curriculums, instituted harsh abortion bans, and gerrymandered district lines to consolidate power. And this isn’t a historical anomaly—in fact, Southern politics have shaped the bounds of national politics since 1812, says Adam Harris, author of the forthcoming Is This America?. Although the region’s power in sheer numbers has diminished, its influence has not.

In this talk, Adam draws on his research and his forthcoming book to reveal the unique role that the South has played and continues to play in our national landscape. He demonstrates what a shift in the political landscape of the region would mean for the nation, and illuminates the critical junctures that could have brought us to a drastically different politics. He shows audiences the roadblocks that are keeping us from a more progressive region, giving them a better understanding of the America we live in today and where we could go from here.

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Featured Books

The State Must Provide
The Definitive History of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education

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