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Jelani Cobb

Honorary Degree Recipient: Doctor of Letters

Jelani Cobb
Eileen Barroso

Rutgers is proud to bestow upon Jelani Cobb an honorary doctor of letters degree. Cobb leads Columbia Journalism School as the dean and is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism. Cobb joined the faculty in 2016 as the founding director of the Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights before becoming the 14th dean of the school.

Cobb has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2015. His journalism there has explored the intersection of race and policing, covered the aftermath of mass shootings, examined crucial social and cultural concerns, and chronicled national politics. He is the editor or coeditor of several volumes including The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from The New Yorker and The Essential Kerner Commission Report. He has also coproduced and written a number of documentaries including Lincoln’s Dilemma, The Riot Report, and Policing the Police.

He received a Peabody Award for his 2020 PBS Frontline film Whose Vote Counts, which examined crucial issues of voter access ahead of the presidential election, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary in 2018. He has also been a political analyst for MSNBC since 2019. Cobb is a recipient of fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Cobb was educated at Jamaica High School in Queens, N.Y.; Howard University, where he earned a B.A. in English; and Rutgers University where he completed his M.A. and doctorate in American history in 2003. His research concentrates on the linkages and relationship between the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Journalism Project, New York Public Library, and Gordon Parks Foundation. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2023. Cobb has dedicated his deanship to paving pathways to greater access to a journalism education, including Columbia Journalism School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program—the first of its kind for the journalism industry—as well as landmark events.

He is the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress and To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic.

Cobb has been a featured commentator on National Public Radio, CNN, Al-Jazeera, CBS News, and other national outlets. Literacy and education were valued highly in Cobb’s childhood household. Both of his parents had migrated from the South, where they did not have access to high-quality schools. He recounted being taught to write at an early age by his father, Willie Lee Cobb, and has been writing ever since.