Danielle Sered Profile
Danielle Sered (Georgia & St John’s 2000) designed and launched Common Justice, a demonstration project of the Vera Institute of Justice, and serves as its Director. She is experienced in a variety of mediation and conflict resolution techniques and has designed and directed programs that apply those techniques in schools, juvenile detention centres, and in work with gangs. Before developing Common Justice, Danielle worked for the Vera Institute as Interim Deputy Director of the Adolescent Reentry Initiative, and prior to that, led programs at Harlem Community Justice Center for court-involved and recently incarcerated youth. Danielle holds an MPhil in European Literature from the University of Oxford, an MA in Poetry from New York University and a BA from Emory University.
Rhodes Project: What is your favourite thing to do in New York?
Danielle Sered: I love to run in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, in the morning. I’ve never really been much of a morning person, but since I’ve started running I’ve come to love mornings in a way in never used to, and I try to run there most days before work.
Rhodes Project: If you could meet one historical female figure, who would it be?
Danielle Sered: Harriet Tubman. I use her life and work to remind myself of the extraordinary ease and privilege I experience, even as I do the very hard daily work of trying to bring about a more just world. I’d love to meet her and ask her what to do, both to be able to stay in the struggle through one’s lifetime, and also to seek her guidance.
Rhodes Project: Did you find your Oxford experience intellectually fulfilling? Was it what you were expecting?
Danielle Sered: It wasn’t what I was expecting – it took me some time there to find the right fit for my work. The disposition of the academic departments there can be quite different from what is happening in the States, and it took me a while to find the people there who would support me in the academic work that I was most committed to doing. It was fantastic once I’d found them, but there wasn’t an obvious path to that.
Rhodes Project: What first drew you to your work with Common Justice?
Danielle Sered: I got into criminal justice work, firstly out of an awareness of the ways incarceration ravages communities and witnessing that firsthand as a young person, and secondly from understanding my enormous relative privilege as a white person in America, and believing that with privilege comes responsibility. As someone who has been lucky enough not only to have benefitted as a white person in America, but also to have benefitted from the privilege of the Rhodes Scholarship and an Oxford education, I felt that I had an obligation to pay that forward in the best way I knew how, and Common Justice is that.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite past project?
Danielle Sered: I worked on a project once with a group of domestic workers in New York to set up a community acupuncture clinic with them. We brought together a group of acupuncturists and a group of women who had been organising together for years, and developed a sliding scale clinic where the women would get treated all at the same time and paid a lower rate, so the acupuncturists still made their hourly rate but it became accessible cost-wise to the women receiving the care. It was really rewarding to develop a system that made something accessible that didn’t rely on charity.
Rhodes Project: What projects are you currently working on?
Danielle Sered: I started, and now direct Common Justice, which is an alternative to incarceration and victim service program for violent felony cases. I’ve never done anything harder in my life, nor have I ever done anything that feels more important or more exciting. It is, without exception, the biggest and most meaningful thing that I’m working on, or ever have, and I believe in it very deeply.
Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Danielle Sered: I came into this work with such strong substantive knowledge about violence intervention, conflict resolution and trauma -- and in directing an organisation you learn that your substantive expertise is only a small fraction of what you do. I spend an enormous part of my day figuring out how to keep the organisation afloat, from managing staff, to raising funds, to negotiating with contractors. So many of my challenges have been in that part of the work, of running something effectively on a daily basis, whilst still remaining connected and continuing to learn. That balance is challenging for anyone in leadership, and is particularly challenging for someone who is doing it for the first time.
Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Danielle Sered: I have never seen people transform as quickly and as deeply as I see in Common Justice. We see people who have been seriously harmed, and who carry that trauma through their daily lives – we see them recover, we see them get peace, we see them get their lives back, their ability to work, their ability to feel safe at home and their ability to love well. And we also see the people who harmed them held accountable in a way that affirms their human dignity. In doing that we see those people transform not only into people who we expect won’t hurt anyone else like that ever again, but also who will become the kind of men and women who we want and need in our communities. Witnessing that every single day is extraordinary. For most of us, if we get to see one person transform in our lifetimes, it’s a gift – to have that happen on a daily basis and get paid to do it is more than I imagined I’d get to do.
Rhodes Project: What motivates you to do such challenging work?
Danielle Sered: On the one hand I have a sense of obligation. I have a sense that my humanity is at stake in whether or not this world is a better place when I leave it, so I don’t do it out of charity, I don’t do it out of kindness. I do it out of self interest, and by that I mean the interest of protecting, nurturing and growing my humanity in my daily work. On the other hand, I also do it because it’s what I want and love to do. There’s nothing I can imagine wanting to do more than this thing I do every day, and that’s a real gift.
Rhodes Project: If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?
Danielle Sered: I have two answers: first would be to be able to change into any animal at will, because then I could be invisible, I could fly, I could swim far, but I also would be able to be a whale among whales, and a bird among birds, and so wouldn’t be isolated by that power. That’s the big answer, but if I couldn’t have that one, I would settle for the super power of, when my alarm goes off in the morning, remembering how good I feel after I run so I actually feel motivated to get out of bed!
To read more about Danielle’s work with Common Justice please visit
Back to Scholar Profiles O-S