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Our Mission

The mission of the Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity, a part of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, is to center marginalized girls in research, policy, and practice; to name and address the root causes of race and gender disparities; and to develop solutions that are guided by youths’ narratives and voices. The Initiative’s focus on race and gender fills a gap in the national conversation about equity, in which girls of color are rarely visible.

There can be no gender justice without racial equity, and no racial justice without gender equity. In recognition of these twin goals, the Initiative views its work through an intersectional lens, conducting groundbreaking research and developing innovative policy and practice solutions to support low-income girls and girls of color. We are focused on improving public systems, aiming to:

  • Decrease over-discipline of girls of color in school
  • Strengthen girls’ connection to schools
  • Promote gender-responsive, culturally affirming approaches to trauma
  • Improve girls’ access to healthcare and wellness, and
  • Reduce disproportionate rates of arrests and confinement.

Our areas of focus include the school to prison pipeline for girls; sexual abuse and other forms of trauma that girls uniquely experience; barriers to healthcare access; restorative justice as an innovative alternative to punitive responses and police presence; and adultification bias against Black girls.

Our Values

Justice – Our focus on fighting gender, race, and economic inequities is rooted in Georgetown’s social justice mission to serve others. We conduct research, host events, and develop policy to advance Georgetown Law’s justice-focused mission: “Law is but the means, justice is the end.”

Boldness – We elevate critical issues that are rarely a focus of policymakers and the mainstream media. We will continue to push past barriers and boldly explore complex challenges, standing with and for girls and women of color and marginalized youth.

Integrity – We work and lead with a consistent and uncompromising adherence to the moral and ethical standards of Georgetown University.

The Right to Childhood – Every child must be treated in a developmentally appropriate way, free of racism, discrimination, and bias that result in trauma, unfair treatment, and poor health and education outcomes.

The Initiative grew out of the Center’s Project on Marginalized Girls, which began with a grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies in 2011. Since that time, the Initiative has become a national leader on girls’ issues and is viewed as a key member of the community. We have published widely recognized publications that contribute to the field and receive significant national media attention; hosted events that range from webinars to White House conferences to an evening in a national art museum; and collaborated with scholars from institutions across the country and with girls of color who comprise our Youth Advisory Committee, which ensures that our work is in alignment with girls’ own articulation of their concerns and priorities.

We prioritize collaboration and partnership, especially with women-led organizations. We work across Georgetown’s various campuses and with external scholars, practitioners, and organizations who are engaged in multidisciplinary work on women’s and girls’ issues, ranging from direct service to national advocacy.

The Initiative values the power of youth voices as an important source of insight and knowledge. In addition to our regular meetings with our Youth Advisors, we have published a compilation of artwork and stories by girls of color to amplify youths’ perspectives, and we conduct qualitative research with girls to learn from their insights and lived experiences.

The central concern of the Initiative’s work is to improve public systems’ engagement with youth of color who identify girls, from schools to the healthcare system to juvenile justice. Specifically, we aim to decrease over-discipline, increase access to education, strengthen responses to trauma, improve reproductive health access, and reduce inappropriate rates of arrests and confinement. Our research projects target the school to prison pipeline for girls; restorative justice as an innovative solution to over-discipline; the phenomenon of adultification bias against Black girls; and the unique forms of trauma that girls experience.

Our Team

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Professor Peter Edelman

Faculty Director

Rebecca Epstein

Executive Director

Becca Shopiro

Director of Administration

Professor Thalia Gonzalez

Senior Scholar

Chloe B. McKenzie

CEO and Founder of BlackFem®

Nikola Nable-Juris

Women’s Law & Public Policy Fellowship Program

Rhea Shinde

Research Assistant
Georgetown University Law Center

Jocelyn Ortiz

Georgetown College

Naomi Wadler

Youth Ambassador

Schools for Girls of Color Project Team

The Initiative founded Schools for Girls of Color Learning Network. We co-lead the Learning Network with the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. Young women and girls of color act as our
Youth Advisory Committee.


Dr. Sydney McKinney

Executive Director, National Black Women’s Justice Institute

Dr. Sydney McKinney has over a decade of experience developing and managing child welfare and criminal justice research and evaluation in applied settings. She has extensive experience in the areas of performance measurement and implementation assessment. Prior to joining NBWJI, she worked at a large social service provider in New York City where she oversaw data analytics for the organization’s behavioral health clinics, child welfare, and housing programs.

She also worked at the Vera Institute of Justice performing research and evaluation on topics such as restorative justice, stop and frisk, status offense reform, and alternatives to incarceration. Dr. McKinney holds an MPH from Columbia University, an MA in Law and Society from New York University, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University.

JoHanna Thompson

Senior Public Healthy & Community Outreach Specialist, NBWJI

JoHanna Thompson is an organizer, educator, and restorative justice practitioner, affiliated with NBWJI. JoHanna’s lived experience as a youth advocate, Certified Health Educator, Guardian ad Litem, therapeutic foster parent, interventionist, facilitator and trainer lends a unique perspective to trauma-informed discussions.

JoHanna’s career has been dedicated to creating collaborative spaces across an intersection of networks, fostering relationships, and maintaining a vision to increase the capacity of community organizations, programs and campaigns that are working toward equitable social and transformational justice. JoHanna continues to advocate for young people in schools, focusing on reducing trauma for Black girls placed within the dependency care system.

JoHanna earned her Master of Public Administration from New York University, Wagner School of Public Service, and her undergraduate degree in psychology from Columbia University.

Youth Advisory Committee

Oumou Kaba

Bronx, NY

Trinity Woodson

Suffolk, VA

Aliya Horton

Columbus, OH

Alani Rouse

Durham, NC

Sadé Ratliff

Randolph, MA

Schools for Girls of Color Steering Committee

Kalisha Dessources Figures

PhD Student, Yale University

Monica McLemore

University of California – San Francisco

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa

National Crittenton

Joanne Smith

Girls for Gender Equity

Shiwali Patel

National Women’s Law Center