Letter to the UW Law School- 2016

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the
silence over that by the good people.” – Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear University of Washington School of Law:

In solidarity with the greater UW student community, we submit our call to justice,
inviting UW Law to #WalkTheWalk and transform our institution. The following letter
provides our assessment of the current state of the law school’s affairs and an updated
list of demands to liberate our education from racist oppression.

  1.  “Leaders for the Global Common Good.” This is the motto that attracted
    so many of us to this institution. However, the school’s limited response to the
    ongoing civil and racial injustices perpetuated by the state demonstrates that we
    are out of touch, and falling short of this noble and ambitious accolade. With
    respect and hope we, as law students, write to you again to right the ship; to
    demand urgent action and chart the course we set out last year for a more
    inclusive, diverse and aware learning environment. In addition, the attempt to
    change this motto comes across as arrogant and dismissive of public interest
    concerns and the call to social justice and responsibility.
  2. Our nation is at a pivotal moment in understanding and addressing
    oppression and structural racism. Social justice advocates must refocus
    their efforts to affirmatively advance racial equity. Yet UW Law has taken a
    cursory, shallow glance at what the rest of the nation is viewing in-depth. The
    most prestigious, highly ranked law school in the Pacific Northwest—a law school
    in a city with a significant history of police use of force and racist practices—has
    remained mostly silent on the pertinent legal events earning national and
    international attention today. What does that persistent silence tell us about our
    agency, our values, and our role as law students in this movement?
  3. There is a cultural disconnect that is pervasive throughout this institution. After students pushed for a response by the administration to the non-indictments of Darren Wilson and NYPD officers in late 2014, a brief email was sent to UW Law students, inviting us to a lecture by Jeff Robinson. The event was well attended, and Mr. Robinson’s words were inspirational; however, a year later, UW Law has yet to follow up with any institutional action other than those actions and programs manifested by students themselves. This lack of responsiveness is pervasive throughout the institution, and contributes to the hostile environment within the law school that leaves students with marginalized identities behind. Yet all of this is no surprise with our minimally diverse student body, including only 2.5% African Americans.

UW Law has a history of student-led progress for racial equality. In 2013,
student opposition extinguished plans for a proposed prosecution clinic at the school. In
2014, Critical Race Theory was finally added to the curriculum in response to student
action. Current 2Ls demanded and received a 1L Critical Race option for their spring
term and additionally added an important anti-racism component to the Foundations
for Legal Study (FLS) program. Although movements like these are important and
admirable, they rely disproportionately on those students who particularly
overburdened by both schoolwork and the hostile environment of this institution.
Leaving all of the anti-racist and social justice work to law students is a distressing
signal from this school. The institution is in need of a cultural shift.
We believe UW Law can develop the next generation of leaders to exercise our
independent collective power to work towards a world without symptoms of
institutional racism. If we want a more racially equitable education system, we must
engage in difficult dialogue and continually question assumptions, experiences and
methodology. It’s time we lead by example. It’s time we earn the right to call ourselves
“Leaders for the Global Common Good.”

DEMANDS

As University of Washington School of Law students of color and allies, we declare a
state of emergency and demand the following from our institution:
● We demand a radical increase in the representation of diverse communities at the
law school. As a public institution our demographics should be representative of the
community. For both the inclusiveness of traditionally marginalized populations and
the enhancement of our learning environment– diversity of background equals
diversity of ideas—which translates into more stimulating classroom discussion and
debate.
● The law school should strive for a diverse student population more in line with the
community. For example, 8% African American student population to match the city
of Seattle or, ideally, 14% to match the United States. Given the historical underrepresentation
of African Americans in the legal profession, we are appalled that
only 2 UW Law degrees were awarded to African Americans in 2014. Similarly, UW
Law has 5% Hispanic enrollment, compared to 14% of the Washington State
population.
● Continue exploring a new “Alternative Admissions Program” coupled with
academic support for applicants from non-traditional backgrounds. Although
poaching the limited national pool for “qualified” applicants of color is the
traditional method of increasing diversity, we believe it’s our duty to promote true
equality through the redistribution of intellectual capital. We believe this goal is
more important than any potential impact on the law school’s ranking.
● Continue institutional support and funding for the Law Scholars Program which is
dedicated to providing mentoring and academic/LSAT support to foster the interest
and success of future law school applicants in the community.
● Recruit and retain more diverse faculty members, including Latino/Hispanic and
African American tenured professors. Include as part of the tenure review process
cultural sensitivity, research, and demonstrated actions that promote diversity and
awareness.
● Create a full-time, paid staff position to facilitate issues of diversity. Dozens of
students have organized through several student groups to begin working towards
these goals; such a position would serve as a point-of-contact and be invaluable
towards cultivating further ideas and actions. This position should have actual
decision-making power. It is unclear what the impact is of multiple positions with
partial diversity components; we worry about sustainability and unity of diversity
undertakings using this model of leadership.
● Include students on the Admissions panel, particularly students with marginalized
identities. Students can speak better to what types of voices and opinions need to be
reflected in the law school.
● Ensure transparency for the generous gift of $56.1M from Jack MacDonald. The
scholarship income from this trust should be prioritized with the mission of
recruiting, enrolling, and retaining a more diverse student body.
● We demand a curriculum more clearly focused on the mission of
creating leaders for the global common good. Such courses will provide a
foundation of social justice for graduates in careers of all types, and will work
synergistically with the demands above.

  1. Offer more social justice courses for 2Ls and 3Ls. A survey should assess student
    demand for specific courses, but we believe UCLA Law’s course offerings can
    provide a starting point.
  2. Support professors and students involved in the new 1L Critical Legal Studies
    class which includes big-picture elements of history, philosophy, critical legal
    studies, implicit bias, and critical race/feminist theory. Breaking the cycle of
    indoctrination and redirecting student focus to the global common good will
    require concerted effort from UW Law administration and faculty. The
    instructors who volunteered to take on discussion sections should have
    demonstrable backing from this school to help them excel in teaching this new
    curriculum.
  3. Make Critical Race Theory available annually for 1Ls in the spring. Students
    should not have to continually organize in order to get a one-credit elective each
    year.
  4. Continue mandatory baseline training relating to issues of race and implicit
    bias and follow-up the training with supplemental activities and events
    throughout the year. As lawyers, we will all be interacting with people. Just as the
    UW Medical School recognizes this important aspect of future professional life,
    we ask that UW Law encourage cultural competency training. This training
    should start at FLS, continue through the 1L curriculum, and include an elective
    requirement for cultural competency classes in the 2L and/or 3L years.
  5. Create a training program for faculty to discuss issues of race and diversity.
    Include a student presence in said training.
  6. Course assessments should include some evaluation criteria for a professor’s
    ability to create an inclusive learning environment.
  7. Create an alternative spring break service project to allow students the
    opportunity to engage with communities, learn about real-world injustices,
    expand their world-view and learn about possible solutions and actions. Give
    students an opportunity to learn beyond the walls of the law school, beyond the
    few pages discussing these issues in our texts, beyond the comforts of Seattle.
    Today we charge all members of UW Law to express solidarity with and support all law students. We believe that our community has the courage of its convictions. We are therefore committed to working with our peers, teachers, and administration to become true leaders for the global common good.

This letter was created by students of color and allies at the University of Washington School of Law-May 2016