Structural problems, such as institutional racism and bias, require structural solutions. White people in the legal academy are only now reckoning with the reality of systemic racism within our hallowed halls, an insidiousness that many People of Color in the legal academy have always known. Yes, racism and bias are pervasive in our teaching, learning, service, and leadership environments.
This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. The other two articles in the trilogy are: Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Antiracist Curriculum;” and Dermot Groome, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: Educating Antiracist Lawyers.”
This reckoning is the result of the intersecting crises of a global pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown people; a full-throated social movement demanding racial equality following 2020’s cascade of murders of, among others, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; and a presidential election in which voter suppression was on full display, and a then sitting president’s apocryphal untruths regarding the election process sped up the need to address systemic inequities hampering the legal academy’s ability to transform legal education to truly deliver on its vision to promote the rule of law and equal justice for all.
During these cataclysmic events, the faculty and staff of Penn State Dickinson Law exercised leadership by leaning into the hydra-headed economic, social, and political storm of 2020 to declare unanimously their intention to act and implement Antiracist teaching and learning methods at the law school. Faculty and Staff did not anticipate the resonance that these actions would have on colleagues—including students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni—in the legal academy.
Our positions as faculty and staff in the legal academy and as attorneys in the legal profession are inherently ones requiring us to exercise leadership. In the legal profession, the defining aspects of leadership are heightened by duty, accountability, and a sworn obligation to act equitably, transparently, and with integrity. It was integrity that motivated Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff to take such an unprecedented, yet necessary position against systemic racism and bias, not just for the institution but for the academy and for the profession.
Penn State Dickinson Law acknowledged its obligation to embrace leadership that promotes equality and justice for all as well as the special obligation to train the next generation of leaders to do more and to do better. In service to the ongoing commitment to eradicate racism and bias, Penn State Dickinson Law is immersed in the work of constructing an Antiracist law school.
Conway, Danielle M. and Saidman-Krauss, Bekah and Schreiber, Rebecca, Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success (March 13, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.