Around the Quads

New Holder Initiative Tackles the “Quiet Prejudice of Inaction”

Photo of discussion panel at the launch event for the Holder Initiative

Ben Hider

Photo of Eric Holder and other event panelists

At top, Alondra Nelson, professor of sociology (far left), moderates “Living the Core and Advancing Justice,” a discussion with (left to right) Ai-jen Poo ’96, executive director of the Domestic Workers Alliance; Danielle Allen, director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. ’73, LAW’76; and Bernard E. Harcourt, the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and professor of political science.

Ben Hider

On November 17, Columbia College announced the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. Named for former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. ’73, LAW’76, the Holder Initiative will carve out a distinctive experience for undergraduate students through a focus on historical, contemporary and future visions of justice. An anonymous donation of $10 million has put the initiative halfway toward its $20 million goal of becoming an institute.

“From the moment Eric and I discussed this idea two years ago, we knew that the initiative would build on the foundation of our Core course Contemporary Civilization, in which students engage with fundamental issues of justice, of citizenship, and of rights and responsibilities,” Dean James J. Valentini said, speaking at an event at Low Library celebrating the launch of the initiative. “Today marks the culmination of our combined commitment to provide College students opportunities to turn their intellectual learning into action that will advance civil and political rights for all citizens.”

The initiative will sponsor courses, public events, student internships and fellowships that extend the Core Curriculum’s themes and questions regarding justice and civil and political rights. Discouraging retreat into what Holder calls “the quiet prejudice of inaction,” the initiative will encourage students to “live the Core” by supporting their civic action on and beyond campus.

Initial support for the initiative came in part from a three-year grant from the Ford Foundation, whose mission is to seek to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.

“Columbia College generated in me a real desire to explore the underlying truths to the human rights issues that have confronted our nation for so many years.”
— Eric H. Holder Jr. ’73, LAW’76

“Columbia College generated in me a real desire to explore the underlying truths to the human rights issues that have confronted our nation for so many years,” said Holder, the third longest-serving U.S. attorney general and the first African-American to hold the office. “It is my hope that the initiative will be a means by which — through research, dialogue and practical experience — these issues can be understood and, most importantly, real progress made. I am especially excited that students will be an integral part of the effort and will carry the work of the initiative forward for years to come.” A former University trustee, Holder is also a 1996 recipient of a John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement and the 2015 recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Medal.

Among its first works, the initiative will sponsor The American Voter Project, a six-part series that will explore the state of voting in the United States today. It also will offer a new capstone course during the Spring 2018 semester, “Power, Rights, and Social Change: Advancing Justice,” which will bridge the Core and contemporary issues of social justice. And it will offer undergraduates access to a summer internship program, which provides financial support for work in civic and community engagement projects at Columbia and other educational institutions, and with NGOs, businesses and community groups.

Bernard E. Harcourt, the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, professor of political science and director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, will be the initiative’s executive director. At the launch, along with Holder, Harcourt participated in the panel “Living the Core and Advancing Justice.” The conversation was moderated by Alondra Nelson, professor of sociology and president of the Social Science Research Council, and also featured MacArthur “genius” grant recipients Ai-jen Poo ’96, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

To learn more about the initiative, go to holder.college.columbia.edu.