“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:
I. “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 involving use of police force demonstrate 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 today to right the ship; to demand urgent action and set a course for a more inclusive, diverse and aware learning environment.
II. 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 silent on the most pertinent recent legal event gaining 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?
III. 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, 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, three months later, UW Law has yet to follow up with any action. When students of color involved in protest actions and deeply affected by the events of Ferguson requested to postpone fall exams, they were told “no,” even though many law schools throughout the country honored such requests. This lack of empathy 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. Although movements like these are important and admirable, they leave all of the work to already over-worked students and are radically insufficient. 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”.
- 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 under-representation 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.
- Create 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.
- Establish and fund an official community outreach program 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create and incorporate a new “capstone” course into the 1L curriculum with more big-picture elements of history, philosophy, critical legal studies, implicit bias, and critical race/feminist theory. The traditional 1L curriculum focuses so intensely on the minutiae of case law that it is easy to lose sight of why many of us came to law school in the first place. This course would serve to break the cycle of indoctrination and redirect student focus to the global common good.
- Make Critical Race Theory optional for 1Ls spring, 2015.
- Create a mandatory baseline training relating to issues of race and implicit bias. Such training could be incorporated into FLS. 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 provide 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.
- Create a training program for faculty to discuss issues of race and diversity. Includes a student presence in said training.
- Course assessments should include mandatory evaluation criteria for a professor’s ability to create an inclusive learning environment.
- 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 of all law students. Work with us to ensure that we truly are and will continue to be leaders for the global common good.