Join us for the 2024 Annual Willowbrook Memorial Lecture: “The Activism of Elizabeth Lee and Lillian Hall: New Insights on the Closing of Willowbrook State School” on Wednesday, May 8, 2024 via Zoom from 6:00pm to 7:00pm. This event is free and open to all; CC CLUE credit available.

Please register online.

Many know the story of the closing of the Willowbrook School, but there is so much more to learn.

Please join the Willowbrook Legacy Project for the 2024 Annual Willowbrook Memorial Lecture. This year, we will feature an illustrated and engaging talk by Jennifer Hall Lee, Vice President, Board of Trustees of the Pasadena Unified School District, followed by discussion and questions.

Ms. Lee is the daughter of social worker Elizabeth Lee, one of two key Willowbrook whistleblowers who, along with Dr. Michael Wilkins, was fired for sharing the horrors of Willowbrook with the world. Mrs. Lee and Dr. Wilkins spoke frankly about the appalling conditions that had developed at Willowbrook, often at risk to their jobs. They shared their insights with local journalist Jane Kurtin, who reported on the conditions in the Staten Island Advance. Finally, Lee and Wilkins were fired for their outspokenness. Still in possession of their keys, they invited ABC’s Geraldo Rivera into Willowbrook with his news team to capture film of the conditions, and the rest is Willowbrook history.

Jennifer Hall Lee will share this story of brave advocacy and its aftermath, as well as the backstory to Elizabeth Lee’s deep commitment to protecting the interests of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (and others) housed at Willowbrook: a brother born with IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) whom the family chose to keep at home instead of following doctors’ recommendations to institutionalize him at Willowbrook. Lillian Hall, Jennifer Hall Lee’s late grandmother, devoted her life to ensuring that her son would have the best life possible, and this led her into activism to create group homes and community-living situations on Staten Island, including those established after the closing of large institutions like Willowbrook. Her story, too, will be shared by Jennifer Hall Lee.

Carrying this legacy with her, Jennifer Hall Lee has focused her own professional life on continued advocacy for students with educational challenges, and is now the Vice President of the Board of Trustees of an inclusive school district in California. Her own work sheds a fascinating light on how education for people will IDD has changed since the Willowbrook closure.

This Staten Island-centered story is one of generations of women’s activism devoted to forwarding the quality of life and of educational opportunities for persons with IDD. It is also a story about dedication to doing what is right and cultivating the internal fortitude to stand up even when you may pay a terrible personal and professional price for your commitment.

A panel discussion will follow Jennifer Hall Lee’s presentation, with Jennifer Hall Lee, Elizabeth Lee, and Dr. Michael Wilkins, moderated by Dr. Catherine Lavender, Department of History and Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Co-Chair (with Nora Santiago) of the Willowbrook Legacy Project at the College of Staten Island. This panel will mark the first-ever public discussion among the participants of the events that led to the closing of Willowbrook. Questions from the audience will follow.

The Willowbrook Annual Memorial Lecture was established more than 30 years ago by Professor David Goode, PhD, now Professor Emeritus, of the Departments of Sociology/Anthropology and Social Work at the College of Staten Island/CUNY. Through this lecture series, many important stories of Willowbrook have been brought out of silence and into the light. An archive of many past lectures is available on the Willowbrook channel on YouTube.

Professor Goode’s long advocacy to preserve the history of Willowbrook has led the College of Staten Island to embrace this important legacy in the struggle for disability rights, especially for those with IDD. In 2020, CSI opened The Willowbrook Mile on its campus, the former site of most of the Willowbrook State School. This historically interpretive walking trail tells the story of Willowbrook and of the larger struggle to ensure dignity for all persons. The Willowbrook Mile is open to all visitors and to school and community groups. Tours may be arranged by contacting

Please join us for what promises to be an historic conversation.

By Nora Santiago and Catherine Lavender