Deborah Archer

President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

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Deborah Archer Speaker Biography

President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The first person of color to lead America’s premiere civil rights and civil liberties organization in its over 100-year history, Deborah Archer is a leading civil rights and civil liberties advocate, civil rights lawyer, professor, writer and commentator. Her talks explore the intersection of race, civil liberties and the law, challenging audiences to confront America’s legacy of racism and injustice. She also helps audiences understand how systemic racism impacts all aspects of American life, from our workplaces and campuses to transportation, education, housing, economic opportunity, criminal law and more.

Honors and Awards

In addition to serving as the eighth President of the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), Archer is Professor of Clinical Law at the New York University School of Law, and Faculty Director of the Law School’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law. Previously, she was an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU, where she litigated in the areas of voting rights, employment discrimination, and school desegregation. Archer was also a member of the faculty at New York Law School and an associate at the international law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. On two separate occasions, she chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, the nation’s oldest and largest police oversight agency. Archer’s articles have appeared in leading law journals and she has been recognized by the New York Law Journal as one of New York’s Top Women in Law, Archer regularly appears in print and on television to comment on critical political and policy issues. She is a graduate of Yale Law school, where she was awarded the Charles G. Albom Prize, and Smith College.


The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Archer’s commitment to civil rights and civil liberties grew from her family’s personal experience confronting racism, classism and anti-immigrant sentiment in her native Connecticut. Her moving talks bring that passion and purpose to every audience, inspiring us to not only understand the nature of systemic injustice—but to do the work of overcoming it.

Deborah Archer Speaking Topics

Championing Racial, Ethnic & Gender Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

Achieving racial and gender equity in the workplace will be one of the most important issues that companies will tackle in the coming decade. Research shows that diverse workplaces are more effective, and justice demands that candidates of every background have a chance to succeed. Yet implicit bias, systemic racism, and gender bias keep companies from developing diverse and inclusive workplaces. In this timely talk, Deborah Archer contends that to champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, we have to understand how racism and other forms of bias stands in its way.

Understanding Racial Bias & Systemic Racism in America

According to Deborah Archer, when most people think of racism they think about a person, or maybe a group of people, who dislike people of a different race, and then act on that dislike. Or, increasingly, they talk about implicit bias where someone is acting on unconscious feelings. Certainly, it is important to understand how individual and implicit bias work. But thinking of racism only in those terms misunderstands the true nature, power, and persistence of racism. This understanding of racism overlooks the centuries-long impact of race-based laws, policies, and practices that have caused and perpetuate racial inequality. In this eye-opening talk, Deborah Archer provides a deeper understanding of race in America — focusing on systemic racism is a variety of contexts, including housing, the criminal legal system, health care, education, and infrastructure.

Race and the Law

In this thought-provoking talk, Deborah Archer explores the role of race and ethnicity in the American legal system and the interaction of race and the law in society. She also examines the intersection of race, culture, ethnicity, and various institutions including the legal and political institutions. Specific areas include race and education, race and political participation, race and the criminal legal system, race and segregation, and race and the built environment. Audiences leave with a deeper understanding of the role of the law in creating and perpetuating racial inequality.

What Schools Can Do to Champion Racial Justice

So much of how we think about our society can be shaped by our education system — at so many levels, teachers are at the forefront of closing the racial divide in America. In this talk for educators, Deborah Archer discusses how schools can advance racial justice by teaching students not only about the nature of systemic racism, but the way that racism persists in its power. She also inspires educators to truly live the values of their institutions by challenging systemic racism and individual bias within their own walls.

Examining Critical Race Theory: A Framework for Understanding Systemic Racial Inequality

The term Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a flashpoint topic in our culture, which is why it’s so important to understand what CRT actually is, so our country can move forward. In this talk, Deborah Archer discusses why CRT is not the scourge it’s been portrayed as but an important lens for understanding systemic racism and examining laws, systems and power structures that embed racial inequality. She’ll discuss the fundamental tenets of Critical Race Theory and explore how it can help us better understand the sources and reality of systemic racism.

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