are diversity and inclusion important in the legal profession and in
society in general? The justice system is not colorblind, and black
and brown men disproportionately fill America’s prisons. If the
caretakers and decision-makers of our legal institutions do not
reflect the diversity of America, they cannot claim to represent
everyone, and society can never hope to overcome unconscious
need for diversity and inclusion is as important as ever, as is
activism in pursuit of those goals. This reality was brought home
very recently when Amy Wax - a University of Pennsylvania Law School
professor - denigrated African-American students by questioning their
intelligence and claiming they do not belong there.
- who co-wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer in August
arguing that the country
must return to the “bourgeois” cultural values of the
and who said that all cultures are not equal - appeared in a YouTube
a month later in which she made derogatory comments about
African-American students and alumni. In the video, she told Glenn
Loury, an African-American professor at Brown University, that black
students at Penn Law and elsewhere should not even go to college, and
- echoing the anti-civil rights views of the late U.S. Supreme Court
- are placed in “demoralizing” and “mismatched”
environments where they are asked to compete with people who are
“more skilled, sometimes significantly more skilled.”
don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in
the top quarter of the class, rarely in the top half,” she
said. “I can think of one or two students who’ve
graduated in the top half of my required first year course.”
also claimed that the student-run University of Pennsylvania Law
Review has a racial diversity mandate, suggesting students of color
who write for the publication are subpar and undeserving.
I graduated from Penn Law 15 years ago this year, I was president of
the Black Law Students Association and part of a coalition of student
activists who, concerned about problems of racial inclusion among
students and faculty, formed the Penn Law Diversity Initiative.
Fifteen years later, these issues around race have not disappeared.
remarks have drawn criticism from students, alumni, and professors
signed by more than 800 alums in under a week urged Dean Ted Ruger to
respond to Wax’s demeaning and disparaging lies and prohibit
her from teaching first-year students and sitting on key committees.
a thoughtfully written letter to the Penn Law community, Ruger
refuted Wax’s claims. He also removed
the professor from teaching first-year classes
and said he will soon announce initiatives to encourage conversations
on freedom of expression, diversity, and inclusivity.
light of Professor Wax’s statements, black students assigned to
her class in their first week at Penn Law may reasonably wonder
whether their professor has already come to a conclusion about their
presence, performance, and potential for success in law school and
thereafter. They may legitimately question whether the inaccurate and
belittling statements she has made may adversely affect their
learning environment and career prospects. These students may
reasonably feel an additional and unwarranted burden to perform well,
so that their performance not be used or misused by their professor
in public discourse about racial inequality in academic success. More
broadly, this dynamic may negatively affect the classroom experience
for all students regardless of race or background.”
young, gifted, and black in America means navigating those in society
who promote the narrative of your intellectual inferiority and root
for your failure. You are bombarded daily with microaggressions and
blatant assaults on your psyche, from those who wish ill upon you and
will exert their power so that they may stop you in your tracks. For
a first-grader or a first-year law student, this makes for a
traumatic, triggering, and alienating experience.
make up over 80
of all lawyers, making law
the least diverse profession in America.
And it is even
worse at the top:
While lawyers of color are 16 percent of law firms, they are a mere 9
percent of law partners and 11 percent of general counsels at Fortune
of 2016, white men were 58 percent of state court judges - who try 90
percent of the cases
in the U.S. - and 60
percent of federal court judges,
with President Trump working in earnest to increase that number at
rate in decades.
percent of elected prosecutors
are white, and 83 percent are men.
schools, which provide the pipeline
for the attorneys
and for law
and Latino students,
though many prestigious schools need to do more.
is this important? America can never hope to have just laws and
policies, or a system that brings equity and equality to everyone if
the vast majority of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law
professors are white.
live at a time when activism matters, when people are taking a stand
and demanding change - from #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo to the
striking teachers and the high school student walkouts against gun
violence. While everyone is not committed to ensuring equality and
opportunity for all and ending institutional racism, those who cannot
tolerate things as they are must shout it to the rooftops and fight
commentary was originally published by WHYY.org