Our Team

Christia Mercer

Christia Mercer
Founder, Director

Christia Mercer is the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and Director of the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy. Professor Mercer studied art history in New York and Rome, before going to graduate school in philosophy (PhD, Princeton University, 1989). Among other awards, she has received a Fulbright Scholarship (1984-85), Humboldt Fellowship (1993-94) and NEH Fellowship (2002). She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012-13) and, along Seamus Heaney, a Resident Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Spring, 2013). Most recently, she is the recipient of an ACLS (2015-16), Folger Library Fellowship (2016), a Senior Visiting Professor at Harvard University's Villa I Tatti Library, Florence, Italy (2015), and Radcliffe Institute Fellowship (2018-19). Mercer is proudest of her teaching awards. She won the 2008 Columbia College Great Teacher Award, and the 2012 Mark van Doren Award, which annually recognizes a professor for “commitment to undergraduate instruction, as well as for humanity, devotion to truth and inspiring leadership.”

Professor Mercer has become increasingly involved in rethinking criminal justice and access to higher education. She was the first professor to teach in Taconic Correctional Facility as part of Columbia University’s Justice-in-Education Initiative. She is now organizing courses in the Metropolitan Detention Center, a Federal Prison the Brooklyn, and publishes on the need to make higher education more widely available and on justice reform.

Taylor Rae Almonte

Taylor Rae Almonte
Assistant Director

Taylor Rae Almonte is the Assistant Director of Just Ideas and a Masters student in Human Rights Studies. She describes her work as meeting at the intersection of racial justice and wellness. In 2020, Taylor founded ACTIV-ISM, combining her experience as a professional boxing trainer and racial justice activist, to create an anti-racism wellness company. Taylor is interested in studying the Eighth Amendment right that protects all from cruel and unusual punishment in America and how that is translated to incarcerated populations, and especially those in solitary confinement, when denied access to outdoor physical activity. Taylor utilizes her unique skillset to empower and mobilized, while advocating for lasting change.


Aileen Hernandez
Administrative Assistant

Aileen is a rising senior at Columbia College who will double major in Political Science and Human Rights. On campus, Aileen is an Events Coordinator of the Student Organization of Latines (SOL), a senior editor of the Columbia Political Review, and was formerly elected to Student Hall Council by her peers. She has been involved with Just Ideas since Spring 2023 and is excited to continue working with the program "behind-the-scenes".