Mitchell Hamline School of Law is pledging to work toward becoming an antiracist law school, with the passage of a resolution approved last week by faculty.
The resolution commits the school to several actions to “identify and eliminate racism that exists at our school, in the legal profession, and in the judicial system.”
Those actions include developing a process, including an institutional audit, to identify and address racist policies and practices at Mitchell Hamline and to understand why existing policies or processes are racist or perceived to be so. The language specifically cites the admissions process as one the school should be open to changing.
“Recent events, including the killing of George Floyd in our community in May of 2020, have compelled many of us to think more deeply and carefully about our mission, including whether law schools and the legal profession are doing enough to identify and rectify racial injustice and secure liberty and justice for all,” reads the resolution.
“As a community, we have concluded that law schools and the legal profession can and must do more to end the injustices of racism that are embedded in many aspects of U.S. society, including the judicial system, the legal profession, and law schools.”
Law is one of the least diverse professions. People of color make up roughly 14 percent of attorneys in the U.S. but represent about 40 percent of the total U.S. population. Students of color currently represent 22 percent of Mitchell Hamline’s student population.
The resolution, which was brought forward by Professor Sharon Sandeen, director of Mitchell Hamline’s Intellectual Property Institute, was passed two days after Mitchell Hamline hosted an online event with Boston University Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Antiracist,” during which he said law schools were at the “center” of antiracism work. “The crux of the solution will be law and policy,” Kendi said. “Those who are studying law who become policymakers will be in the forefront of creating an anti-racist society.”
“This vote by our faculty is crucial to getting our law school on the path towards active antiracist work instead of the more passive default of simply trying to avoid doing something racist,” said Mitchell Hamline President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki. “Working to center our school around antiracism is the logical next step beyond our ongoing efforts to make the school more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.”
“If our bar passage rate is lower for our students of color than white students, that’s a problem,” Niedwiecki added. “If we have lower retention of BIPOC colleagues, that’s a problem. There’s something going on to cause that to happen, and addressing it is one way to be antiracist.”
“This is a way we can begin difficult and uncomfortable conversations,” said Sharon Van Leer, senior program manager in Mitchell Hamline’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “It will be the priority of department managers to implement this throughout the school, and that’s how we’ll have accountability around this.”
Mitchell Hamline has already implemented several initiatives toward becoming an antiracist law school, and more are planned:
- Dean Niedwiecki, in his first year at the helm, has diversified his seven-member executive team with the hiring of two people of color as vice presidents, and he has created a new vice president position overseeing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- The school has hired three faculty members of color to begin in the fall of 2021. One has plans to establish a center at the school focused broadly on racial and social justice.
- The school has created a Visiting Assistant Professor program, designed to diversify the legal education profession by recruiting accomplished attorneys of color into teaching positions with two-year appointments (and an option for a third year). The goal is to launch them into tenure-track positions in the legal academy.
- School officials are developing a scholarship to support students from underrepresented communities who have financial need and examining admissions policies through an antiracist lens to create more inclusive and equitable outcomes.
- A transitional justice project titled “Truth and Action: Addressing Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System in Minnesota” will collect stories from those who have encountered disparate treatment within the justice system in Minnesota. These examples of lived experience will be paired with quantitative data to create recommendations and an action plan for change. The project is organized by Mitchell Hamline’s Dispute Resolution Institute.
- Mitchell Hamline’s Public Health Law Center is working with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and other partners to create a toolkit to support state and local governments in creating policies that declare racism as a public health crisis or emergency and provide a framework for concrete, measurable action.
The resolution, which you can read here, also calls for annual reviews to keep track of progress towards becoming an antiracist school.