Thought Leader Chris Rabb Delivers Impactful 2023 Dyson Distinguished Lecture

November 2, 2023
Chris Rabb

On Wednesday, October 25, 2023, Chris Rabb delivered the 2023 Dyson Distinguished Lecture at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Chris Rabb is a family historian, author, and thought leader at the intersection of social identity, civic innovation, and equity. His lecture was entitled: “Navigating Identity, Purpose and Belonging in a Society in Flux.”

Haub Law Dean Horace Anderson spoke about the history of the Distinguished Dyson Lecture and thanked Mr. Rabb for delivering this year’s lecture. University Distinguished Professor of Law, Bridget Crawford, followed with a formal introduction of Mr. Rabb, speaking about his background and impressive accomplishments. Professor Crawford attended Yale College at the same time as Mr. Rabb and noted his role in the ultimate renaming of one of Yale’s residential colleges. She described Mr. Rabb as an incredibly hard worker who has dedicated his life to ending institutional, interpersonal, and all other forms of injustice.

Dean Horace Anderson, Chris Rabb, Professor Bridget Crawford

Mr. Rabb began his engaging lecture discussing the important difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” He noted that the two are not synonymous, as “belonging is about connectedness, being accepted for exactly who you are.” Mr. Rabb described his personal journey as a genealogist, which he began over thirty years ago in order, as he describes it, to find out “who his people were.” He discussed at length his lineage and family connections to both enslaved people and their enslavers. This has given him a complex perspective on the intersection of identity, purpose, and civic engagement. He noted that each of us has a social identity that influences our connectedness, community building, and placemaking, especially in divisive times.

As Mr. Rabb continued his lecture, he touched on the important difference between ancestry and heritage and how this played into his own personal journey of discovering his own social identity. “Ancestry is what you are: your pedigree, your parents, grandparents,” he noted. “Genetically that is what makes you up. Heritage is very different. Heritage is about who you choose to become. You have choice over that.” Mr. Rabb has been an outspoken critic of the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard. During his lecture, he discussed the connection between and among opportunity, privilege and social identity, along with the future of affirmative action in higher education.

He rounded out his riveting and personal lecture by discussing the roles to which all are called. “We all have gifts. What do we do with them? That is your exploration,” he encouraged students. Mr. Rabb acknowledged that the role that one may find oneself in at any given moment may require embracing an “inconvenient truth;” it may be an unanticipated role, but each of us must rise to the occasion. “If you can find the community of conscience that you can participate in that role with, it will give you so much wealth. That is the real wealth that matters,” said Mr. Rabb. “Community wealth. The wealth that transcends finances and social status, wealth that brings you joy that gives you a sense of purpose. I implore you to step up.”

Following the lecture, Mr. Rabb was presented with the Dyson Medal by Dean Anderson and Professor Crawford. He then participated in an insightful Q&A session with the audience. In response to a question regarding belonging, Mr. Rabb encouraged the audience to look inward for a sense of belonging. “Wherever you show up, that is where you are supposed to be. I am not going to let anyone tell me that I don’t belong somewhere,” said Mr. Rabb. “You know your own value. When you know your own self-worth, it is really hard to be intimidated.” The conversations continued at a post-lecture reception held at Haub Law.

Chris Rabb is a proud father, author, and public speaker. While a visiting researcher at Princeton University, he wrote the book, Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity (2010). He also taught at Temple University's Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management where he was the Social Impact Fellow at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute and taught social entrepreneurship and organizational innovation. He has appeared as a guest with several local and national media outlets, including: The New York Times, The Huffington Post, MSNBC, NPR, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Associated Press. Mr. Rabb is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Dyson Distinguished Lecture was endowed in 1982 by a gift from the Dyson Foundation and made possible through the generosity of the late Charles H. Dyson, a 1930 graduate, trustee, and long-time benefactor of Pace University. The principal aim and object of the Dyson Distinguished Lecture is to encourage and make possible scholarly legal contributions of very high quality in furtherance of Haub Law's educational mission. Prior Dyson lectures have been delivered by many distinguished guests, including Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Dr. Cornel West, and more recently Monica Hakimi, William S. Beinecke Professor of Law at Columbia University.


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