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Faculty Focus

A Professor Worthy of the Name

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Kim Taylor-Thompson was one of five professors to receive the 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Faculty Award in February. The student-nominated honor recognizes professors across the University who exemplify King’s spirit through scholarship, research, and teaching, and also considers their positive impact in the classroom and the greater NYU community.

Students singled out Taylor-Thompson for her passion and her work examining the effect of race and gender on criminal behavior, particularly among juveniles. “It is all too easy to label a person who commits a crime a criminal and forget that they, too, are human, with a history and psychology that bear on their actions,” read one student’s nomination. “Professor Taylor-Thompson reminds us that these people cannot be left to the system without careful consideration for why they did what they did and whether the punishment fits the crime.” But, the student continued, she does not gloss over the fact that people, even juveniles, do commit crimes, and that they must be brought to justice. “I have found the evenhanded approach with which our Criminal Law class has been conducted to be both an aid to learning the law and a lesson in compassion, understanding, and equal treatment,” the nomination concluded.

In accepting the award, Taylor-Thompson related an anecdote about when, as a young girl, she encountered King speaking to a circle of people at an outdoor jazz concert on the grounds of Jackie Robinson’s house. She boldly walked up to him, and he started asking her questions about herself.

“We all remember him for all the amazing things that we talked about here,” said Taylor-Thompson, “but I remember him as the man who focused on a 10-year-old and made her feel like she was at the top of the world that day. He taught through everything that he did—his life, his words, his loss of life—that there are principles that we have to stand for, there are things that we have to be committed to: racial justice, social justice, economic justice. It is so unbelievably humbling to receive an award in his name.”

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