Our 2020 Year in Review series of lists – beginning with “10 Pieces of COVID-19 News We All Paid Attention to in 2020” and later “10 Election Stories That Kept Us Sane in 2020” – spotlights Harris news, accomplishments, and perspectives from across our community in a year unlike any other.

2020 brought on a reckoning in the United States and around the globe on the topic of racial justice and the importance of diversity and inclusion to advancing social progress. Here are some of the stories from around the Harris community that we paid attention to:

1. Fighting inequality with the Harris toolkit

Harin Contractor, MPP'08

When Harin Contractor, MPP’08, started college at the University of Georgia in 2000, he wasn’t politically or policy-inclined – until 9/11 happened, changing his trajectory forever and making him aware of his privilege. Contractor received the 2020 Alumni Award at the Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS) Alumni Gala this fall.

2. Celebrating Black Action in Public Policy Studies (BAPPS)

BAPPS at the Keller Center

Black Action in Public Policy Studies (BAPPS) was founded by four Black women in 2017 because there needed to be more intention in the creation of Black spaces at the Harris School of Public Policy. This is their story.

3. Race, the wealth gap, and income shocks

Using a dataset linking bank account data with voter registration records containing race and ethnicity, Associate Professor Damon Jones, Assistant Professor Peter Ganong, and coauthors were able to examine, with unprecedented levels of specificity, the spending behaviors of households, and to examine how self-reported Black, Hispanic, and white households behave differently when faced with sudden income reductions.

4. Feminism’s racial blind spots

Hood Feminism

With a goal toward “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Mikki Kendall turned her signs to feminism’s racial blind spots in Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, a collection of essays weaving history, social science, and the harsh world around us into stories of Kendall’s own life. Harris Public Policy hosted Kendall for a discussion of Hood Feminism and her extraordinary journey.

5. Black leaders share their stories

Nikki Giovanni stands with a child holding a copy of Spin a Soft Black Song, a poetry collection she first published in 1971.  (photo by Beking Joissaint)

Valerie Jarrett and Helene Gayle shared their stories at the Harris Policy Forum in February 2020. We learned of Skyla Hearn (CLA’20) and her journey as an archivist and activist on Chicago’s South Side. And we heard from Nikki Giovanni, who told us, “you cannot let the world change you.”

6. Fines and fees

Fines and fees disproportionately affect Black and Latinx communities.

Working with Senior Lecturer Paula Worthington, the Center for Justice & Safety Finance at PFM has released an expert study from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy that includes best practices for reforming the policies that dictate criminal justice system fines and fees, which disproportionately affect Black and Latinx communities.

7. Hispanic roots

As a part of Harris Public Policy's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, our HR team sat down with Assistant Professor Austin L. Wright to discuss his Mexican-American community roots, among other faculty and staff. And in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, the Latinx Heritage Month Committee offered, in collaboration with Harris and I-House, the annual ¡Pachanga!, an evening of music performances from influential Chicago artists. Although the year presented many challenges, the organizers remained committed to continue this tradition virtually with evening filled with song, dance, and inspiration.

8. A Human Rights Commissioner in our midst


Barbara Barreno-Paschall, MPP'17

Barbara Barreno-Paschall, MPP’17, could have ended her LinkedIn profile headline after the first three words: Human Rights Commissioner. Appointed by Governor JB Pritzker in 2019, she’s among Illinois’ first seven full-time commissioners, a heady role in which she’s tasked with resolving discrimination complaints under the state Human Rights Act.

9. How do our textbooks affect our students?

Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia

New research by Harris Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia and Alex Eble, assistant professor at Columbia University's graduate school of education, Teachers College, will explore how messages about gender and race in elementary school textbooks can influence children’s beliefs in their own abilities and their subsequent educational decisions.

10. A renewed commitment to D&I

Diversity and inclusion is essential to policy leadership.

Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris Public Policy, announced the release of the Harris D&I Roadmap, the school’s first-ever strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, as well as a new D&I website housing the roadmap, action steps, progress updates, and more. In addition, Michelle Hoereth was also named to the new, leadership-level position as Harris' first Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion.