Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, to Give Keynote Address at 2016 Barbara Jordan National Forum | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Event Wrapup

Watch Vanita Gupta's full speech on our YouTube.

View photos from the keynote speech on our Flickr page here.

View the Storify from the 2016 Barbara Jordan Forum here.

Media Coverage

The Austin American-Statesman

Event Information

AUSTIN, Texas, January 29, 2016 - Vanita Gupta, current Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, will be the featured speaker for the 2016 Barbara Jordan National Forum, scheduled for February 21-26 at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. The theme of the student-led weeklong event is “Criminal Justice Reform: A Common Destiny”, with Gupta delivering her keynote address “Inequality in the Criminal Justice System” on Wednesday, February 24th at 12:15 PM at The LBJ School.

The theme and keynote address of this year’s forum is inspired by a quote from Barbara Jordan’s landmark keynote address to the 1976 Democratic Convention: “A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.”

Barbara Jordan Forum student co-chairs Brencia Berry and Erin Smith voiced their enthusiasm for this year’s keynote speaker, noting the connection with honoree Barbara Jordan and her legacy.  “Vanita Gupta has been diligently fighting on the side of justice from Tulia, Texas all the way to Ferguson, Missouri”, said Berry. “Much like Barbara Jordan, Vanita Gupta is a trailblazer. Ms. Gupta embodies Barbara Jordan’s legacy of leadership, service, and social justice”, added Smith.

Under Ms. Gupta’s leadership, the Civil Rights Division continues its crucially important work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and other criminal justice reforms, promoting disability rights, protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals, and combating discrimination in education, housing, lending, and voting.  Ms. Gupta is a longtime civil rights lawyer.  Prior to joining DOJ, she was Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union and Director of its Center for Justice.  From 2006-2010, she was a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program. Ms. Gupta won a landmark settlement on behalf of immigrant children detained in a privately-run prison in Texas that led to the end of “family detention” at the facility. Prior to that, she worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where she successfully led the effort to overturn the wrongful drug convictions of 38 individuals in Tulia, Texas, who were ultimately pardoned by Governor Rick Perry. She then helped negotiate a $6 million settlement on behalf of her clients.

The annual Barbara Jordan National Forum, traditionally held in February, is organized by LBJ students and designed to celebrate the former congresswoman’s contributions as a politician, policymaker, and educator. This year’s forum will commemorate Jordan’s 80th birthday and mark 20 years since her passing. In addition to Vanita Gupta’s keynote luncheon, other events include:

  • Monday, February 22nd at 12:15pm: Citizens for Local and State Service’s (CLASS) lunchtime brown bag panel “Criminal Justice Reform in Central Texas: A Local Government Perspective”. The event serves to give insight on addressing criminal justice reform as an elected official in a local government organization.
  • Tuesday, February 23rd at 12:15pm: Public and Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color (PAACC) and the Feminist Policy Alliance’s (FPA) lunchtime brown bag panel “Minority Report: The Criminalization of Marginalized Populations”. Confirmed panelists include Lynda E. Frost, J.D., Ph.D, Director of Planning and Programs at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health; and Kathryn J. Lewis, J.D., attorney at Disability Rights Texas.
  • Tuesday, February 23rd at 5:15pm: A film screening of “Passage at St. Augustine” hosted by the Public Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color (PAACC) in the LBJ School of Public Affairs’ Bass Lecture Hall. Clennon L. King directed this award-winning documentary about the Florida town’s pivotal role in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the demonstrations in St. Augustine as “the catalyst by which the Civil Rights Bill was passed”, morphing into a campaign that received support from influential key players of the national movement such as Jackie Robinson.
  • Wednesday, February 24th at 6:30 pm: The 30th Anniversary of the Heman Sweatt Symposium will take place in LBJ School of Public Affairs’ Bass Lecture Hall. Join UT Austin's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) for a conversation on the intersection of race and gender. Hear from three Precursors who helped pave the way for women of color on the 40 acres, Sherryl Griffin Bozemen (UT, 1964), Judith Jenkins and Judge Harriet Murphy (UT Law School, 1969). The conversation will be moderated by ESPN play-by-play announcer and former UT Women’s Basketball champion, Fran Harris (UT, 1986). For more information, click here
  • Thursday, February 25th at 12:15pm: The Harvey Milk Society’s (HMS) lunchtime brown bag panel “Transmitting Ignorance: LGBTQ+ Health and Criminal Justice”.
  • Friday, February 26th at 9:00am: A student-led community service event at the Barbara Jordan Early College Prep Elementary School in Austin.  LBJ School student volunteers will read to kindergarten, first, and second graders.

The Vanita Gupta luncheon is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register please visit:

For more information about the Barbara Jordan National Forum week, visit our website at: