Writer, Academic, President of the Social Science Research Council, Professor of Sociology and former inaugural Dean of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality
"Alondra Nelson (born 1968) is an American writer and academic, is President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). An award-winning social scientist, she is also professor of sociology at Columbia University in the City of New York where, prior to her role at the SSRC, she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science, as well as Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.
She writes and lectures widely on the intersections of science, technology, and social inequality. She has authored or edited four books including, most recently, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.
Nelson received her B.A. in anthropology with high distinction from the University of California at San Diego, graduating magna cum laude in 1994. At UC San Diego, she was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies from New York University in 2003.
From 2003 to 2009, she was Assistant Professor and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Sociology at Yale University, where she was the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence and a Faculty Fellow in Trumbull College. At Yale, Nelson was the first African American woman to join the Department of Sociology faculty since its founding 128 years prior.
Nelson was recruited to Columbia from Yale in 2009 as an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies. She is the first African American to be tenured in the Department of Sociology at this institution. At Columbia, she directed the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, was the founding co-director of the Columbia University Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Council, and was Dean of Social Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. As Dean, Nelson led the first strategic planning process for the social sciences at Columbia University, successfully restructured the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and helped to establish several initiatives, including the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity program, the Eric J. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, the June Jordan Fellowship Program, and the Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies.
In February 2017, the Social Science Research Council's Board of Directors announced its selection of Nelson as the 94-year old organization's fourteenth President. She is the first African American to lead the SSRC.
Nelson serves on the Board of Directors of the Data and Society Research Institute; the Center for Research Libraries; and The Brotherhood Sister Sol. She is a member of the Board for African-American Affairs at Monticello. Chair of the American Sociological Association's Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section, Nelson is an elected member of the Sociological Research Association. She has been a member of the World Economic Forum Network on AI, the Internet of Things and the Future of Trust and the Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society. Nelson has served on the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Board of Governors for the Society of Fellows at Columbia. From 2014 to 2017, she was Academic Curator for the YWCA of New York City and was also a member of its Program Committee.
Nelson has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, the Bavarian American Academy, and the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. She sits on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science and Public Culture. Nelson served on the jury for the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize and is a juror for the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program.
Nelson writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine and inequality. Named one of "13 Notable Blacks In Technology" by Black Voices, she established the Afrofuturism on-line community in 1998 and edited an eponymous special issue of the journal Social Text in 2002. She is among a small group of social theorists of Afrofuturism. Particularly, her essay "Future Texts" lends insight onto the inequitable access to technologies. Nelson explained Afrofuturism as a way of looking at the subject position of black people that covers themes of alienation and aspirations for a better future. Additionally, Nelson notes that discussions around race, access, and technology often bolster uncritical claims about the "digital divide." The digital divide framing, she argues, may overemphasize the role of access to technology in creating inequality as opposed to other drivers of inequality. Noting the racial stereotyping work of the "digital divide" concept, she writes, "Blackness gets constructed as always oppositional to technologically driven chronicles of progress."
She is co-editor with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee of Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. Nelson is also co-editor, with Thuy Linh N. Tu, of Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life, one of the first scholarly works to examine the racial politics of contemporary technoculture.
Her book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination was praised by Publishers Weekly as deserving "commendation for its thoughtfulness and thoroughness," was noted as "a much-needed and major work that will set the standard for scholars" by the American Historical Review, and was hailed by leading scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as "a revelation" and "a tremendously important book." Body and Soul was recognized with several awards, and inspired an October 2016 special issue of the American Journal of Public Health on the Black Panther Party's health legacy, which Nelson co-curated.
Kirkus Reviews described The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome, Nelson's book about the uses of genetic ancestry testing in Black communities, as a "meticulously detailed" work that "adds another chapter to the somber history of injustice toward African-Americans, but... one in which science is enriching lives by forging new identities and connections to ancestral homelands." The Social Life of DNA was named a finalist for the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction and a Favorite Book of 2016 by the Wall Street Journal. The book was published in an Arabic translation in 2017.
Her writing and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian (London) and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications." (1)