In an effort to confront society’s history of racial inequity, the GW Law faculty passed a new antiracism resolution by unanimous vote on Juneteenth, resolving to promote individual and institutional accountability for combatting racism. The resolution was submitted at a special faculty meeting and was approved the same day, with all faculty members voting in favor.
The resolution argues that "our country has a pervasive and enduring history of systemic and institutionalized racial oppression" and cites recent events that have exposed grave racial and economic inequities, including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color and the killings of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
"This is a defining moment for GW Law," said Interim Dean Christopher A. Bracey. "We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening within our country, its impact upon our community members, or its connection to the multi-generational arc of justice that shaped our nation’s history. As lawyers, legal educators, scholars, and advocates, we have a duty to help eradicate racism in all its forms."
The resolution states, "We, the faculty of the George Washington University Law School, hold ourselves accountable for engaging in the daily work of combating racism as individuals and as an institution. We pledge to approach these efforts with humility and respect, mindful of the importance of listening to and learning from those of us most impacted by systemic oppression."
The resolution calls for further assessment of classroom teaching to eliminate racial and cultural bias, as well as the increased hiring of people of color in faculty and staff positions. It encourages anti-bias training for faculty, staff, and students and seeks to improve the recruitment of students of color by strengthening ties at historically black colleges and universities and working more closely with the GW Black Law Students Association and other affinity student organizations within the law school.
Through the resolution, the faculty also commits to recruiting the finest lawyers to teach students about inequality and racial oppression within the justice system and further investing in the intellectual life of the school on matters relating to racial justice. Workshops and seminars on race-sensitive teaching will be developed, and the curriculum will be evaluated for possible changes in emphasis. Finally, the resolution called on the law school to conduct an institutional policy review regarding the reporting of bias and discrimination.
"The GW Law community is so special—namely, our ability to come together to support one another in times of crisis, to lift one another as we climb to new heights, and to serve as thought leaders in a world that looks to us for guidance. I applaud our faculty for taking this critical step forward in striving to dismantle the injustice that has defined the struggle of African Americans in this nation for centuries," said Dean Bracey.
WHEREAS, our country has a pervasive and enduring history of systemic and institutionalized racial oppression, which is reflected in ongoing inequities in criminal justice and incarceration, education, health care, economic opportunities, and political power; and
WHEREAS, the devastating and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities has laid bare these grave racial and economic inequities; and
WHEREAS, the killings of George Floyd and so many others expose an unconscionable and long-standing pattern of brutality, violence, and dehumanization committed against people of color; and
WHEREAS, far too often, the calls for justice in response to violence and brutality committed against Black Americans and other people of color go unheeded, which defines “the struggle of African Americans to overcome more than 400 years of white supremacy and the mendaciousness of systemic racism in this country” (This and other quoted language is from a Message from Interim Dean Christopher A. Bracey, June 2, 2020); and
WHEREAS, “there is a profound disconnection between our nation’s professed ideals of equality under law and the reality of devastating modes of racial oppression operating not only within our nation’s police departments, but throughout our local, state and national political offices”; and
WHEREAS, silence and inaction by individuals and institutions, particularly those with power, privilege, and influence, perpetuate systemic and institutional racism; and
WHEREAS, our faculty “cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening within our country, its impact upon our community members, or its connection to the multi-generational arc of justice that shaped our nation’s history”; and
WHEREAS, our role as lawyers, scholars, advocates, and educators compels us to strive to dismantle systemic and institutional racial oppression within ourselves, our law school, and our broader community; and
WHEREAS, our faculty repudiates and condemns racial and economic oppression, including the violence that flows from it;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that we, the faculty of The George Washington University Law School, hold ourselves accountable for engaging in the daily work of combatting racism as individuals and as an institution. We pledge to approach these efforts with humility and respect, mindful of the importance of listening to and learning from those of us most impacted by systemic oppression. We understand that these measures depend on collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae. We pledge to continue to collaborate closely with the GW Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and other student organizations focused on these issues. Our efforts to address racial inequity within GW Law School will include, but are not limited to:
(1) Evaluating and improving classroom teaching and culture to understand and eliminate racial and cultural bias, consistent with the University's guidelines on exercising and defending academic freedom;
(2) Seeking, hiring, promoting, and retaining people of color as faculty, staff, career counselors, and administrators, to the extent permitted by applicable law;
(3) Researching, offering, and encouraging bias training for faculty, staff, and students;
(4) Improving recruitment of and support for students of color by, among other things, expanding ties at historically black colleges and universities and collaborating more extensively with BLSA and other affinity student organizations;
(5) Educating our students about inequality and racial oppression within our justice systems through the recruitment of outstanding lawyers to teach seminars, courses, and reading groups and the promotion of series and programming on these issues;
(6) Dedicating faculty investment in the intellectual life of the school on matters of racial justice, in its many manifestations;
(7) Developing workshops and seminars on race-sensitive teaching as well as possible changes in curricular emphases and course materials; and
(8) Implementing an institutional policy review regarding the reporting of incidents of bias, discrimination claims, accommodations, and grievances.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, this resolution be preserved in the records and minutes of The George Washington University Law School Faculty and prominently displayed on the GW Law website.
January 11, 2021 Update
As we grapple with the transition of power in our nation’s capital, this morning I find it fitting to turn the lens on racial issues here at GW Law. To do this, I want to share an update on the work being done—and the work yet to be done—by the GW Law faculty and administration to respond to the “GW Black Law Students Association Immediate Call to Action.” This comprehensive petition was widely circulated and broadly signed and therefore has commanded my full attention. I will take this opportunity to go through each of the points listed on the BLSA petition.
Community and Climate
Anti-Racist Law School Panel: This fall, the faculty attended a panel on “Race, Equity, and the Future of the Legal Academy” to hear the advice of other law school deans and faculty about their approaches to building an anti-racist law school. This event fostered significant enthusiasm among our faculty for how we will make concrete and lasting change.
Visions of Change: Also this fall, the faculty presented a four-part series of lectures and panel discussions on Racial Justice in America. The topics ranged from Criminal Justice to Public Health to Finance—and were opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to hear from and engage with some of the leading race scholars and practitioners in the nation. These were opportunities to inform, investigate issues, and build new relationships with scholars and scholarship on race and the law.
Inclusive Classroom Workshops: During the winter break, all of the Criminal Law, Property, Legislation and Regulation, and Constitutional Law I professors teaching this spring attended inclusive classroom workshops designed to better equip our first-year faculty to address issues of race and racism throughout the semester. These workshops will be continued in the spring for all faculty, including those who teach in the upper-level curriculum. Moreover, these types of sessions will continue this spring with follow-up workshops to assist faculty in more deeply revising their course content and pedagogical approaches.
Increased Class Offerings: We increased our course offerings on topics involving Race and Law and public interest and expect to have far more in the coming academic year. In addition to our regular offerings, this semester, we are offering Reading Groups including my Race, Health and Law Reading Group as well Social Justice & Racial Equity Awareness in Lawyering; Environmental Justice; and the Role of the Public Defender. Seminars and Selected Topics include Criminal Justice Reform; Criminal Justice in the Surveillance State; the Death Penalty; Movement Lawyering; Equity Issues in Tax Policy; and Gender, Race, and Species. The Curriculum Committee is reviewing our curriculum in light of our Anti-Racism resolution and will make additional recommendations going forward.
Racial Justice: New clinical offerings are in the works. The clinic director and I are meeting regularly to design public-interest-oriented and racial justice clinics dedicated to racial justice as part of a 3-month strategic planning exercise in the clinics. Pending full development of these proposals and faculty approval, we expect to begin offering these new clinics in the coming academic year.
Audits of clinical enrollment and journal competitions: The Dean’s Office has collected data on demographics in both clinic enrollment and journal competitions as a first step toward increasing Black student membership in these programs. This issue is a matter of strategic focus for the Dean’s Office this spring, and the faculty will consider it in the fall. In full transparency, this is a structural issue that will take more than the first few months of my deanship to address. However, my commitment to addressing the problem is firm. On these two issues, I ask for your patience and trust.
Associate Dean of Diversity & Inclusion: We are moving forward. I have taken the first steps required to create a new deanship at GW Law—that is to design and submit the position. I’ve described it as an Associate Dean of Justice, Equity and Inclusion to avoid any confusion over diluted definitions of “diversity.” I am in the process of working with the Human Resources Department to get the position approved and funded.
Transparency: The number of students who identify as members of underrepresented minority groups has been released and we will continue this practice.
Racial Bias Training: Once again, in full transparency, I want you to know that there are some things the petition demanded on which I will take a different approach than called for. This is one. I favor voluntary over mandatory participation in bias training for students and for faculty. Moreover, I am persuaded by the evidence that “one-and-done” training is not enough. Therefore, we have begun to incorporate my preferred approach to bias training in the law school and the results with faculty so far have been outstanding.
Increase the Number of Black Full-Time Faculty: The GW Law faculty and administration are fully committed to doing exactly this as soon as possible. Not only did the faculty unanimously commit to this in its Anti-Racism Resolution last summer, but during the winter break, the Appointments Committee authorized me to request an exception to the University’s current hiring freeze in order to interview and pursue new hires. We have identified specific candidates from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and are ready to swing into action as soon as the hiring freeze is lifted. I can tell you that I am lobbying hard with the University’s leadership to reactivate our hiring for the purpose of aggressively increasing the number of Black faculty, as well as faculty from other underrepresented minority groups. Please stay tuned – I will let students know as soon as I know when we get authority to try to hire new faculty this year.
To increase diversity within the law school’s admission process, I have successfully increased fundraising for need-based financial aid, and increased my participation in HBCU and targeted recruitment fairs to recruit more Black students to GW Law. Our current applicant pool looks strong and I am cautiously optimistic that we will make progress on this goal.
Promote Community Building
My heart is truly in this goal—but here is one where the pandemic has really limited my success so far. Nevertheless, to start I am meeting with BLSA, BLSA leadership, and ABLA. I am also in the process of exploring the possibility of creating a new dean’s advisory board that will make more Black alumni available to help build community and networks for Black students. I do favor smaller group formats over the large and impersonal town hall settings and so I will be scheduling those throughout the semester.
Academic Holidays: And finally, Juneteenth has been designated a holiday on the GW Law academic calendar.
The message I hope to share here is that we are hard at work to actionably respond to the BLSA petition. We fully share your goals and we are making progress.
This past week in Georgia, a state where over 80% of the residents hospitalized with COVID-19 are Black, voters nevertheless moved our nation closer to the promise of equality and justice for all. This gives me hope that we can all make significant progress toward racial justice even under the worst circumstances.
And so similarly, today at GW Law, while I am ever mindful that my office is located in the midst of a plausible threat of extremist violence, I am able to report that the administration and faculty have taken immediate steps to move this law school closer to the goal of treating and educating all students equally. We will take many, many more steps during my deanship. And I will keep in touch with you all along the way.
Dayna Bowen Matthew