2024 GSS Diploma Ceremony Speaker

GSS Diploma Ceremony Speaker

Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq. (LAW '93)


Jennifer Jones Austin Headshot

For more than two decades, Jennifer Jones Austin has been a prominent advocate for underserved children, individuals, and families, and a civic leader committed to advancing community-driven racial justice reforms.

As CEO of the anti-poverty Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, she leads one of New York City’s largest social service organizations—a network of faith- and community-based groups that reaches more than 1.5 million people each year. She also serves as chair of the city’s Racial Justice Commission, which succeeded last fall in getting racial justice proposals on the ballot and written into the city charter, a “crucial step,” she has said, in helping to advance “a more equitable, inclusive future for all New Yorkers.”

Jones Austin grew up in Brooklyn and is a fourth-generation faith and social justice leader. Her father, the Rev. William Augustus Jones Jr., was a renowned civil rights leader and preacher at Bethany Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He taught her at an early age that racism is “not a one-to-one system,” she has said, but “structurally embedded in systems and government functioning.” She credits him and her mother, an artist and art curator, with inspiring her passionate commitment to social service and racial justice, particularly in how they intersect with policy, grassroots action, and the law. After graduating from Rutgers University, she earned a J.D. from Fordham Law School in 1993 and a master’s degree in management and policy from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in 1997. 

Throughout her career, Jones Austin has held influential positions across the nonprofit and government sectors—from deputy commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services to senior vice president of the United Way of New York City. And she has served on numerous commissions and boards, including those of the National Action Network and Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice. A self-described “lawyer with a social worker’s heart,” she is also committed to sharing her expertise with the next generation of civic leaders. She is a visiting scholar at the New York University Silver School of Social Work and a scholar in residence at Alliance University’s Center for Racial Reconciliation. In 2018, she published a memoir, Consider It Pure Joy, about her experiences with a sudden, life-threatening illness and how the twin powers of faith and community fueled her recovery. 

For her commitment to creating economic opportunity and greater social mobility for the most marginalized in our communities, and for highlighting the role of religion in achieving racial and social justice, we, the President and Trustees of Fordham University, in solemn convocation assembled and in accord with the chartered authority bestowed on us by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, declare Jennifer Jones Austin Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. That she may enjoy all rights and privileges of this, our highest honor, we have issued these letters patent under our hand and the corporate seal of the University on this, the 20th day of May in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Twenty-Three.