Dear Stanford Law School,
Seventeen years ago, a group of SLS students of color wrote a letter strikingly similar to this one — asking the Stanford Law School administration to address the lack of diversity among the students and faculty that walked our halls. Meaningful change did not come.
In 2015, a new generation of students published a second letter. They reiterated concerns from 2001 and raised problems with the first year law (1L) curriculum. They knew then what we know now: A legal education that does not address race is incomplete. This 2015 letter provided a list of solutions, but once again, lasting change did not come.
On February 5, reeling from white supremacists’ Identity Evropa posters, Robert Spencer’s bile spewing and hate mail left in a classmate’s mailbox, a group of 1Ls hoisted a banner powerfully declaring that “Racism Lives Here Too,” accompanied by posters with ignorant (at best) and hateful (at worst) words spoken within our classrooms and halls. It served as a reminder that silence is complicity. It was a call to action and a demand for accountability and honesty.
That week, at a listening session, the SLS community came together to hear the stories of students of color. The messages at the listening session echoed stories from friends at other law schools: Racism lives there too. In acts of solidarity, law students across the country, including at UChicago, NYU, Harvard and UC Berkeley, organized parallel actions.
After demonstrating the pervasiveness of problems, our campaign turned to solutions. Through a series of town halls, we called on members of the Stanford Law School community — current and former — to share their experiences and their histories of unresolved requests to the administration. Together, we crafted a list of solutions that focused on five pillars.
Once these asks were complete, we invited faculty, administrators, teachers and students to a community working session on March 9 to hear our proposals. Attendance and engagement exceeded our expectations. We shared a history of activism, a letter signed by more than 250 alumni voicing their support and heartfelt words. Here, we share with the larger Stanford community highlights of our proposals.
We need faculty whose life experiences have taught them to both respect and question a Constitution that was not written with them in mind. We need faculty who have confronted issues of racism and xenophobia. We ask the law school to commit to increasing the number of Black, Latinx, Asian and Native faculty—to commit to broadening all of our educational experiences. We also ask that these decisions include us: There must be greater transparency in the faculty hiring process and more opportunities for student input.
Student recruitment and retention
Students of color provide a lens into the legal profession that cannot be taught. In order to meaningfully increase the student of color population, we ask that SLS hire a diversity officer whose duties include planning minority preview day and organizing recruiting trips to areas that are vastly underrepresented. We also ask that SLS create a fellowship program to support and cultivate diverse students interested in academia.
Race is implicated in almost every class the law school offers. Yet, students are woefully unprepared to think about or discuss issues regarding race. Stanford should graduate lawyers prepared to engage with the intellectual issues of the day. Programming on race and its intersection with the law must begin during orientation.
Similarly, faculty also struggle to address these issues. Torn between challenging problematic statements and hindering speech in the classroom, faculty members forget that when harmful comments go unchallenged by the most powerful voice in the room, students of color in these classrooms are deeply impacted. We propose training to empower our faculty to address such comments effectively so all students in the classroom feel welcome.
As is, students must opt in to courses that will educate them on issues of race within the law. Some, if not most, students will graduate without enrolling in such courses, yet all will face issues of race, regardless of their substantive focus. Whether prosecuting police brutality or defending a corporation in a discrimination claim, our graduates should be able to competently engage with issues of race, gender, sexuality and class. We ask SLS to create a social/racial justice graduation requirement, similar to current requirements on ethics, experiential learning and writing. To ensure our curriculum includes several courses to meet such a requirement, we ask SLS to endow a Critical Race Studies chair.
There is no record of the asks from generations of students of color nor information about SLS’ actions (or inactions) in response to all their meetings, open letters and working groups. To avoid such issues, we ask for transparency through a regular report on SLS’ progress on issues of diversity and inclusion. Second, we ask SLS to create a report examining whether students of color have equal opportunities in and after law school. Only through this information can we identify gaps in support and resources and whether our additional responsibilities as students of color impact our ability to pursue traditional markers of success.
You can find a full list of our proposals at the Law Library.
Each of us came to law school for different reasons — but we all grapple with the fact that many of the issues we want to fight through the law were caused by it. The history of bias and unequal implementation that is codified in our legal system was and is the product of prestigious but incomplete legal educations like ours. Since SLS’s founding in 1893, racism has lived here too. Today, as students did 17 years ago, and three years ago, and one month ago, we call on the administration, faculty, staff and our peers to act. We need an inclusive community — and a legal education that enables us to be the leaders this country desperately needs.
To a better SLS,
Olamide Abiose JD ‘20, on behalf of:
A Coalition of Students of Color