As law schools increasingly recognize the need to incorporate issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their educational programs, we asked rising 3L McGeorge student Lovia Ofori-Ampofo to explore and provide a student’s perspective on what some law schools are offering in terms of DEI curricula. Her review is by no means exhaustive, but the list and Ms. Ofori-Ampofo’s reflections certainly can serve as food for thought as faculty strive to meet the moment.

~ Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz

 

Lovia Ofori-Ampofo is a rising 3L at McGeorge School of Law. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

By Lovia Ofori-Ampofo

After the national racial reckoning that occurred in 2020 in response to several police killings of unarmed African Americans, many law schools across the nation committed to enhance their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Some law schools are creating required or elective courses on legal inequalities based on race, while others are incorporating more DEI issues in their existing courses. Some law schools are doing both. This short essay focuses on efforts I believe are notable.

As an example, the faculty at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles voted for the following learning outcome on systemic inequality last academic year:

Upon completion of the JD program, students will understand the law’s relationship to systemic inequality based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, immigration status and/or socioeconomic status.[1]

Loyola made DEI learning outcomes mandatory throughout all required law school courses, which includes all first-year courses and three upper-division courses.

The University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI) announced that they would require first-year law students to take a DEI course.[2] The course will focus on “critical concepts rooted in a range of equity categories, including race and indigeneity, disability, gender and sexuality, socioeconomic background, survivors of family and domestic violence, [penal] system involvement, and veteran status.”[3] UCI became the second school in the country—and the first in the University of California system—to make such a course mandatory for first-year students.[4] Last semester, Professor Kaaryn Gustafson taught a 1L elective called Race and Lawyering in California.[5] UCI requires that law students take a course on race and indigeneity before they graduate. UCI currently offers courses on race and indigeneity such as US Law, Policy, and Native Nations; Race, Law & Capitalism; Critical Race Theory; Critical Identity Theory; Centering California in the History of Race and the Law; and several other courses with a DEI focus.[6]

Also in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California School of Law (USC) became the first top-25 law school to require first-year students to take a similar course, called Race and the Law.[7] The curriculum for this course was created by Franita Tolson, Vice Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs and Professor of Law.[8] Dean Tolson and USC Professor Ariela Gross were co-chairs of the Academic Affairs subcommittee charged with developing the course.

In fall 2021, the course was an optional one-unit credit/no credit course with four modules per semester.[9] Starting in fall 2022, the Race, Racism and the Law course is required for all students. The course examines the role of law and lawyers in the creation of race and racism as ideologies, structures, and practices, and the role of race and racism in shaping legal institutions, processes, and outcomes.[10] The course touches on the role of law and lawyers in antiracist movements, from abolitionism through Black Lives Matter.[11] The course also focuses on topics such as: The Taking of Native American Lands, Racial Equality and Education, Race and Voting Rights, Latinos(as)(x) Civil Rights Struggles.[12]

Rutgers School of Law, located in Newark, New Jersey, has created a Law and Inequality course that consists of several units of instruction.[13] This is an optional pass/fail course.[14] Each week, a different professor teaches a different topic.[15] The fall 2021 course consisted of units such as: Race, Bias, and Professional Identity; Incarceration, and Inequality with an Emphasis on Racial Disparity; Reproductive Justice; Contracts, Torts, and Property; From Tulsa to Wakanda: Utilizing the Law to Repair Centuries of Systemic Black Land Dispossession.[16] The last section, taught by Professor Norrinda Hayat, focuses on the race-based roots of international law, with a focus on “imagin[ing] an America where the law recognizes Black people as legitimate landholders and reverse engineer policy prescriptions from that place.[17]” Rutgers has taken an innovative and seemingly unique perspective on history and case law. This course made me wonder how the justice system would have been affected if the Warren Court — one of the most liberal courts in U.S. history — had lasted throughout the 1970s.

In Bristol, Rhode Island, Roger Williams School of Law’s Race and the Foundation of America course also uses a mix of videos and readings to further the class aims.[18] The course was developed and co-taught by Nicole Dyszlewski, Diana Hassel, and Nadiyah J. Humber.[19] The course became mandatory in fall 2021.[20] It uses many of the same readings as the courses at UC Irvine, USC, and Rutgers. The grading consists of a final paper, which is worth 60%, weekly reflections worth 10%, and professional engagement, which is worth 30%.[21] The course is divided into three sections: Historical Origins of White Supremacy; Systems of Racism; and Going Forward.[22] The course starts powerfully by diving into the important topic of defining race and intersectionality as rigorous terms within the legal system.[23] An important topic that this course covers is System of Racism: Mass Incarceration/Abolition.[24] Students read chapter five of Dean Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.[25] I believe that this course is unique because the other law school courses I have seen thus far do not include a unit on Public Education, Legal Education, and Racism. The fact that this course seeks to shed light on an often-overlooked topic that currently causes harm to the Black community is commendable. After each reading assignment, students must write a reflection paper.[26] I believe that this is an imperative part of the course because reading students’ reflections allows the professor to assess the students’ individual understanding of each issue in the course. If there is a weakness to this course, it is the focus on slavery and the Reconstruction Era. Instead, this course could give more attention to modern events that occur at the intersection of law and race.

In 2020, Northern Illinois University College of Law (NIU) offered a remote mini-seminar, Race and the Law, that uses Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and the documentary 13th. The course uses other materials such as Juan F. Perea’s “Buscando América: Why Integration and Equal Protection Fail to Protect Latinos,” and The New York Times 1619 Project (2019–present) [a multimedia presentation]. The syllabus lists Lopez, a case studied in constitutional law, as a case involving social construction of race. This pass/fail seminar allowed students to view law school cases from a racial perspective. NIU is not offering the mini-seminar currently and has not decided whether to offer it again in the future. Nonetheless, I found NIU’s 2020 seminar innovative because it started with current racial issues and touched on matters relating to the Latinx experience. Professors gave adequate attention to current problems plaguing the underrepresented communities within the field of law. This mini-seminar also focused more on books and studies, rather than law-related textbooks. Moreover, the mini-seminar required only a limited amount of reading and did not include any tests or quizzes, so that students can digest the material without feeling overwhelmed with the traditional law school grading method.

As reflected here, there are a broad variety of classes on race and law that law schools are implementing, and there is not one perfect course to use as a model. I commend law schools for attempting to educate future lawyers on issues underrepresented people face every day. Legal education needs to educate future lawyers to be ready to help any client, no matter their race. As law schools embark on the important work of incorporating DEI courses into their current curricula, it is vital that the curriculum accomplishes its intended purpose by thoughtfully discussing relevant topics. The avoidance of relevant topics can be traumatizing to students of color and unhelpful to other students. The unrepresented communities they seek to educate must not be re-traumatized. Professors should keep in mind that they are educating students about what People of Color deal with every day, and as a Person of Color, I am entrusting professors to educate my colleagues about my race. Even a well-intentioned idea can miss the mark. I implore faculty and administrators to constantly self-reflect while creating and teaching DEI courses to make sure that the goal is being met.


Footnotes

[1]Loyola Law School First to Mandate Critical Legal Education, Curricular Innovation: Learning Outcomes, lls.edu, (Oct. 12, 2021), https://www.lls.edu/thellsdifference/facesoflls/curricularinnovationlearningoutcomes/.

[2]Michelle Weyenberg, UCI Law Adopts New Race Course Requirement, the journalist, (Apr. 14, 2021), https://www.nationaljurist.com/prelaw/uci-law-adopts-new-race-course-requirement.

[3]Staci Zaretsky, Top Law School Will Make Race-Related Coursework Mandatory for Graduation, above the law, (Apr. 9, 2021), https://abovethelaw.com/2021/04/top-law-school-will-make-race-related-coursework-mandatory-for-graduation/?rf=1.

[4]Id.

[5] LAW 5777 SEC 1 – Race & Lawyering in CA, UCI Law Course Catalog, law.uci.edu., (2022), https://apps.law.uci.edu/CourseCatalog/cap_details.aspx?id=4154.

[6] Spring 2022, UCI Law Course Catalog, law.uci.edu., (2022), https://apps.law.uci.edu/CourseCatalog/cap_results.aspx.

[7]Leslie Ridgeway, USC Gould To Offer Unique Required Course Focusing on Race in Legal System, gould.u.s.c.edu, (Feb. 4, 2021), https://gould.usc.edu/about/news/?id=4814.

[8]Paul Caron, USC Is First Top 25 Law School To Offer Required Course On Race, Racism, And The Law, taxprof.com, (Feb. 9, 2021), https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2021/02/usc-is-first-top-25-law-school-to-offer-required-course-on-race-racism-and-the-law.html.

[9]USC GOULD 1L Courses, gould.u.s.c.edu, (2021), https://gould.usc.edu/resources/downloads/academics/courses/1L-JD-CourseList.pdf.

[10]Id.

[11]Id.

[12]Id.

[13]Law and Inequality Course, law.rutgers.edu, (2021), https://law.rutgers.edu/law-and-inequality-course.

[14] Id.

[15]Law and Inequality Pilot Course & Section Descriptions, law.rutgers.edu, (2021), https://law.rutgers.edu/sites/law/files/attachments/Law%20and%20Inequality%20Course%20Description%20and%20Sections%20July%202021.pdf.

[16]Id.

[17]Id.

[18]RWU Law Introduces Required Course on Race and the Law, rwu.edu, (June 29, 2021),

https://www.rwu.edu/news/news-archive/rwu-law-introduces-required-course-race-and-law.

[19] Id.

[20]Meera Gajjar, De novo review: Professors Diana Hassel and Nicole Dyszlewski on teaching ‘Race & the Foundations of American Law‘, westlaw today Civ. rights, (Dec. 3, 2021), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/I44c520ec547c11ec9f24ec7b211d8087/View/FullText.html?transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true.

[21] Race and the Foundation of American Law Model Syllabus and Learning Outcomes, rwu.edu, (2022), https://law.rwu.edu/sites/law/files/downloads/diversity/Race_Model_Syllabus_.pdf.

[22]Id.

[23]Id.

[24]Id.

[25]Id.

[26]Id.

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