P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Dena Simmons, 2010

Founder, LiberatED

Dena Simmons is the child of immigrants from Russia and Antigua and Barbuda

Fellowship awarded to support work towards an EdD in Health Education at Columbia University

Dr. Dena Simmons, the daughter of an Antiguan mother and Russian father, is the founder of LiberatED, a liberatory approach to social and emotional learning, racial justice, and healing. She is also the inaugural scholar-in-residence at the Institute for Racial Justice at Loyola University of Chicago.

She is the former Assistant Director of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where she supported schools to use the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. Prior to her work at the Center, Dr. Simmons served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer. She has been a leading voice on teacher education and has written and spoken across the country about social and racial justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K-12 school settings, including the White House, the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, the United Nations, two TEDx talks, and a TED talk on Broadway. Dr. Simmons has been profiled in Education Week, the Huffington Post, NPR, the AOL/PBS project, MAKERS: Women Who Make America, and a Beacon Press Book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists

Dr. Simmons is a recipient of a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a J. William Fulbright Fellowship, an Education Pioneers Fellowship, a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, a Phillips Exeter Academy Dissertation Fellowship, a Hedgebrook Writing Residency, and an Arthur Vining Davis Aspen Fellowship among others.

She earned her doctorate degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she recently served as faculty in the Summer Principals Academy. Dr. Simmons’ research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in the K-12 school setting, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions—all in an effort to ensure and foster justice and safe spaces for all.

She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press).

  • EdD Health Education | Columbia University 2014
  • MA Health Education and Behavior Studies | Columbia University 2014
  • MS Childhood Education | Pace University 2008
  • BA Spanish and Teacher Education | Middlebury College 2005
  • Harry S. Truman Scholar
  • Fulbright US Student Program recipient
Work History
  • LiberatED, Founder
  • Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Assistant Director | July 2014 - January 2021
  • New York City Department of Education, Teacher | August 2006 - August 2009
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