Update on the Law School’s commitment to anti-racism
Dear students, faculty and staff,
Two weeks ago, I wrote to you about some of the Law School’s immediate responses to anti-Black violence and racism. The dual epidemics of COVID-19 and anti-Black violence have laid bare the ugly truth that systemic racial inequality lives on in this country and in our institutions. I fully recognize and embrace that the Law School has much work to do.
For our many community members of color, who did not need a public health crisis or video documentation to know that racial injustice is part of American reality, the current societal outcry against racism has been far too slow in coming. We cannot let the magnitude of the task paralyze us from building an anti-racist future. We must follow through on our commitment to do everything we can to make this law school an anti-racist institution.
The foundation of our community is the Law School’s deeply held value that the law is at its most powerful when it examines and advances the society we aspire to be. The goal of anti-racism lives squarely in this mission. We pursue this ideal mindful of what makes our education excellent: providing an immersive and rigorous curriculum; supporting an inclusive and informed community; equipping our students with the knowledge and skills they need to become effective advocates; and championing transformative advocacy that advances equity and justice.
Our project is substantial, multifaceted, and enduring. In recent weeks I have benefitted from many opportunities to listen to our BLSA leadership, as well as Black students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and many others in our community, on how we can work together towards an anti-racist future. We will enact initiatives immediately this summer and in the upcoming semester and year. Other efforts will require determination and discourse over a longer period. This is a long-term commitment, and I will provide regular updates throughout the year along with a forthcoming website that will offer resources and data to document our progress.
Here are some initial steps on our path to converting our ideals into action.
Supporting Our Community
Students have always been at the heart of this law school. Therefore, our commitment to being an anti-racist institution must be reflected in increased access and support for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as applicants from other historically underrepresented communities. We will continue our significant investment in need-based student financial aid to ensure our doors are truly open for every admitted student.
In addition, inspired by an idea from BLSA, I am authorizing the creation of three new scholarships, to be available for application beginning in Spring 2021. These scholarships will be given to incoming students whose education, experience, and professional commitments advance racial justice and honor the work and legacy of Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander L’27. These new scholarships will recognize the extraordinary work of Dr. Alexander, the first African American woman to graduate from our Law School, and will be named in her honor.
We must also ensure substantial support for students who aspire to a career devoted to advancing racial and economic justice. We will dedicate more funding to design and implement fellowship, scholarship, and loan forgiveness resources for law students and graduates who dedicate their work toward the public interest by serving people whose lives are negatively impacted by inequity and injustice.
As an employer, our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion must be a core and embodied value. Our goal is to achieve inclusive excellence as an employer. In the coming months we will launch an audit of our hiring, promotion, compensation, and retention practices across the law school to identify systemic gaps and to remedy them. We will hold ourselves accountable by revisiting these metrics annually, engaging with our staff colleagues, and by regularly reporting on our progress to the full staff.
We continue to prioritize the recruitment of world-class faculty, many of whose scholarship and teaching are at the forefront of racial justice work. It is equally important that we increase faculty support for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, through chairs and other means. We are also working with University leadership to develop the best policies and practices for ongoing training of our current faculty in teaching and speaking about issues of racial inequity.
To hold ourselves accountable to these goals, the Law School will publish before the end of the Fall semester an annual report on faculty diversity that will review both how the Law School fares in comparison to peer law schools and – perhaps more importantly – how we are meeting our own goals. In addition, we will expand our efforts to cultivate the next generation of diverse, anti-racist law faculty through our post-doctoral fellowship programs, tracking the placement rates of individuals entering the profession from our programs each year.
Supporting the Profession
As an institution of privilege, our responsibility extends far beyond Sansom Street. We recognize our potential to inspire generations of students to pursue careers in the law, particularly Black, Indigenous, and other students of color who have been chronically underrepresented in the legal profession. We have supported several pipeline programs for area high school and college students for many years and commit to increasing that support. As a first step, we will expand the number of scholarships available to high school students who apply to participate in our pre-law Summer Academy program. We also look forward to expanding programs and tracking a measurable increase in the number of participants who enter college, law school, and ultimately the legal profession.
Infusing Racial Justice into Our Programs
Our curriculum has always been strongest when it recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of the law and its power to enact change beyond the courthouse. This spring we announced a partnership with the University’s Department of Africana Studies, offering law students the unique opportunity to study the intersection of the law with the African Diasporic experience.
We will continue to build a curriculum that engages students with the nature of structural racism and inequity in the law. To incorporate racial justice into our educational program, I will convene a committee of faculty, students, staff and alumni in order to propose a plan that provides students with substantially increased opportunities for anti-racism engagement in our classrooms. One proposal I will ask the committee to consider is including a racial justice module in Professional Responsibility, a required course for all upper-level J.D. students. Our obligation to the profession and to students includes a duty to ensure that every graduating student is aware of the equity and access gaps that persist in the practice of law and the provision of legal services in this country.
Inspiring Conversation to Catalyze Change
Our dialogue continues as we amplify the voices of leading scholars, practitioners, and activities to reimagine the criminal justice system. This summer, we launched the new Achieving Racial Justice colloquium. We will follow the extraordinarily successful June 24 panel discussion, Beyond Reform: Re-envisioning the Role of Police, with a virtual discussion about Structural Frustrations: Challenges to Implementing Change on July 8. This is just the start to a year-long series exploring various aspects of racial and economic justice.
Moving Towards an Anti-Racist Future
A newly created committee, chaired by Professor Sarah Barringer Gordon and with student, faculty, staff and alumni representation, will meet this fall to examine the iconic representation around the Law School buildings. I will charge this committee with reviewing our existing veneration of historical figures and potentially suggesting changes, beginning with the Roger Taney medallion that was placed on our oldest building in 1900.
Advancing racial justice requires education and community engagement. This work is the responsibility of all of us, not just our students. I am encouraging all faculty and staff to take time to deepen their understanding of anti-racism and to engage in our redoubled efforts to contribute to our West Philadelphia home.
This year, we will announce a new program that encourages Penn Law employees to engage in service to the community, similar to the pro bono work that other legal employers support. Opportunities to serve will focus on establishing stronger ties to our West Philadelphia neighbors to support a thriving community outside the University campus. In a new Social Action Plan, we are collaborating with local government officials and community partners, both existing and new to us, to assess how Law School faculty and staff can be of most service to those highly engaged in community work. This will dovetail with efforts from our Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Education and our Toll Public Interest Center to connect deeply and over the long run with our neighbors and community.
I am grateful for the many colleagues – students, alumni, staff and faculty – who are helping us take these important steps. I am equally committed to the notion that this is the beginning of what we must do, not the end. I welcome your ideas for further work, as it is often you who highlight what and how we must change to live up to our ideals. We have all been called upon to act. I invite you to join our collective work.
Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law