The year 2020 has forced us, as a nation, to recognize painful realities about systemic racism in our country and our legal system. The fallacies in our founding documents and the vestiges of our slave past are so woven into our national culture that they became hard to see except for those who suffered their daily indignities, hardships, and fears. As legal educators, we must face the role we have played in helping build the machinery of structural racism by supplying generation after generation of those who maintain that machinery and prosper within it. In this critical moment of our country’s history, we, as legal educators, must train and prepare a generation of lawyers to once and for all complete the work of the Civil Rights Movement and purge what remains of racism from our legal system – to build better safeguards to ensure that all of us, everyone, has the equal protection of the laws promised by the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.
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. This first article, Danielle Conway, Bekah Saidman-Krauss, and Rebecca Schreiber, “Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success” can be downloaded on from SSRN. The third in this series is Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Anti-Racist Curriculum.”
As educators, we must recognize our unique opportunity and important responsibility to combat racism in our educational mission. We must do more than transfer legal knowledge and skills to our students. We must cultivate within them, a principled, enduring commitment to work for true equality over the course of their careers and practice law in a way that promotes equal treatment of all. To do this we must reconsider not only what we teach, but how we teach it.
This essay sets out one possibility. It describes the Race and Equal Protection of the Laws program at Penn State Dickinson Law. This innovative program draws from Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy to develop an educational approach with the objective of transforming how our students see their place and role in our evolving, flawed democracy. It incorporates the work of Critical Race Theory to help students understand the root causes of systemic racism and why the landmark decisions of the Civil Rights Movement have not realized their potential to change the lived experience of Blacks and people of Color. It adapts principles of Shared Praxis, an approach to teaching grounded in Critical Pedagogy that guides students to a deepening consciousness of the problem, explores with them sources of law and justice that can be brought to bear, and invites them to develop their own carefully considered response as law students and as lawyers.
During this yearlong course, students will learn and work as co-investigators with faculty members and other students to better understand the relationship between race and different areas of the law including housing, health care, criminal justice, democracy, capitalism and education.
Groome, Dermot, Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law (March 5, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.