UW Law makes consistent, meaningful progress on diversity-related initiatives

The UW Law community has had many important conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020. Students have worked tirelessly to bring forward urgent issues.

“It is clear we have not done all we can to support those who are underrepresented and feel alienated within our law school community,” said Mario L. Barnes, UW School of Law Toni Rembe Dean and professor of law. “The most recent episodes of racialized violence and the national protests this summer underscore the urgency and importance of change.”

The Dean’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion recently conducted a comprehensive review on the progress of the efforts outlined in the law school’s Strategic Plan on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Alongside this work, consultant K.J. Williams facilitated a series of diversity town halls in winter quarter and has recently provided several short-, mid- and long-term recommendations to help address the concerns the UW Law community has voiced and make meaningful progress in diversity-related initiatives.

The foremost finding and recommendation from both groups were the same: UW Law’s biggest barrier to success is that it lacked strong central leadership charged with implementing and coordinating DEI initiatives.

“It has always been clear to me that our people’s hearts and minds were behind diversity, equity and inclusion work, but our disjointed and constrained programming meant we were not able to diligently implement our strategic plan and make consistent improvement,” Barnes said.

William Covington, a dedicated teaching professor and director of the Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic, was appointed as new associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion effective July 1.

Along with the Faculty Diversity Committee, Covington will oversee the implementation of UW Law’s diversity strategic plan, coordinate existing diversity and inclusion efforts and trainings, and hold the school accountable for reaching the goals to ensure progress. Learn more about Covington’s new role.


DEI UPDATES

UW Law is pleased to share the following updates, progress and accomplishments on work related to diversity, equity and inclusion since the 2020 winter quarter.

MAKE DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, EQUITY AND MULTICULTURALISM A PRIORITY

STRATEGIC PLANNING

Covington kicked off work to reinvigorate UW Law’s existing Strategic Plan for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Multiculturalism. The plan was adopted in January 2015 and last updated in October 2017. The plan outlines four main goals: prioritize diversity efforts; diversify the student body, faculty and staff; develop an engaging and welcoming community culture; and increase teaching, research and public service that supports diversity, equity and inclusion.

The next iteration of the plan will incorporate Williams’s town hall recommendations, as well as other revisions requested by students, faculty and staff. A timeline for completion of the update is in process.

1L PERSPECTIVES COURSE

Faculty voted to renew the 1L Introduction to Perspectives on the Law course, which explores the legal system through the lenses of race, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

The course employs these critical perspectives as a method of understanding common law and to provide context for black letter law. This course creates a basic framework for understanding the relationship between race, class, gender, sexuality and the law to help students deepen their ability to represent and counsel clients from diverse backgrounds and personal identities. It also makes students aware that the law can and often does apply differently based on race, gender, sexuality and/or socio-economic status to the detriment of those groups that already suffer many disadvantages.

Barnes and Covington are in the process of organizing a Perspectives Working Group, which will comprise students, faculty and staff. An announcement of the faculty chairperson is forthcoming. The working group will address the following questions:

  • How should the course be redesigned for academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23?
  • Should Perspectives or a similar course or courses continue to be mandatory?
  • What should the course look like in the future?

Student input will be a mandatory aspect of the group’s work. UW Law developed the Perspectives course in response to students’ requests. The course was originally available as an optional course but later became mandatory following student feedback.

STRATEGIC TRAINING PLAN

UW Law is in the process of developing a two-year strategic training plan for faculty, staff and students. Trainings will cover topics that include cultural competencies, microaggressions, managing difficult conversations, white fragility, anti-racism and classroom management.

These trainings will build on, complement and possibly fold into what units throughout the school are already doing.

ANTI-RACISM STATEMENT

Covington is leading an effort to create an anti-racism statement for UW Law. Covington will share a draft of the statement with Dean Barnes, the law leadership team, and faculty, staff and students for review and comment. A draft of the statement should be ready for community input soon.

DIVERSITY PROJECT INDEX

Covington coordinated a working group, made up of LaSheena Taft, Vicki Parker, Ann Spangler and Jessica West, to create the Diversity Project Index. The index organizes the suggestions from faculty, staff, students and other members of the UW Law community in an document that describes the project proposals, identifies a contact person and provides information on how to become involved. More information is forthcoming.

RECRUIT, NURTURE AND RETAIN A DIVERSE STUDENT BODY, FACULTY AND STAFF

NEW STUDENT ORIENTATION

Orientation for incoming 1L and graduate students included several sessions on diversity, equity, inclusion, multiculturalism and anti-racism. Those included a talk by King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván; a roundtable discussion hosted by the Dean's Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and a presentation “Law Leaders and the Communities They Serve.” Students also had the opportunity to discuss the UW Law common book, “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo.

GIFT PROMOTES DIVERSITY

UW recently announced a $250,000 gift from UW Regent Blaine Tamaki and his wife, Preciosa Tamaki, to the School of Law to support efforts to increase diversity; provide students with greater access to mental health resources; and support the work of UW Law faculty and students in the Tribal Court Clinic, part of the Native American Law Center. Learn more about the gift.

DIVERSITY SCHOLARSHIP

Professor William Bailey is leading an outreach effort to create a new diversity scholarship in memory of the recent victims of racialized violence, including George Floyd. Contributions to the Law Justice Scholarship have come from the local law community, as well as UW Law faculty and alumni, and provide scholarships for three students in 2020, the inaugural year.

DEVELOP AN OPEN, ENGAGING AND WELCOMING LAW SCHOOL COMMUNITY THAT RESPECTS DIFFERENCES, AND SUPPORTS DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION AND MULTICULTURALISM

FACULTY TRAININGS AND WORKSHOPS

UW Law has organized several trainings focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, multiculturism and anti-racism. They include:

  • Professor Russell McClain, associate dean of diversity, equity & inclusion and academic achievement at the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law, addressed “Invisible Influences in the Law School Classroom.” The presentation provided teaching faculty with tools for fighting these influences in the classroom. Watch the recording.
  • Professors Karen Boxx, Zahr Said, Lea Vaughn, William Covington and Dean Jessica West presented a faculty workshop on resources and ideas for injecting diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism into our classes. Watch the recording.
  • A panel discussion on “Preparing for Fall Quarter 2020” featured Alex Alben of UCLA, Mohammed Badissy of Dickinson, J.B. Kim of Lewis and Clark, Shannon Bartlett of Northwestern, and Kellye Testy of LSAC.

COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS ON RACE

UW Law hosted “Race Talks: Opportunities to Converse.” The gatherings brought faculty and staff together for open discussions on race. The moderated two-hour session, “Racism: Its Personal Impact,” began with two breakout sessions: a person of color staff/faculty discussion hosted by Sellyna Ehlers, director of human resources, equity and engagement; and a white allies and interested persons discussion hosted by John Clynch, assistant teaching professor.

Each group session was a safe space to discuss Isabel Wilkerson’s article “America’s Enduring Caste System,” and for any participants to share personal experiences. During the second hour, Covington moderated a general session where participants continued the dialogue by sharing experiences.

UW Law also hosted “Honoring the Life of John Lewis,” a discussion of civil rights and inspiring leadership. Attendees viewed “Good Trouble: The Life of John Lewis” and participated in a moderated discussion exploring why they are inspired by the life of John Lewis, whether America’s Civil Rights Laws worked, what work remains to be done, and how we as a legal community can contribute to that work. Watch the recording.

The UW Law Staff Council have held a series of monthly anti-racism reading hours for staff to discuss books, podcasts, movies or other anti-racism resources with colleagues. Staff listen and contribute, as well as share accountability in their anti-racism work that leads to change. 

COMMON BOOK

Many UW Law faculty, staff and students are reading a common book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. Discussions about the book were ongoing throughout summer and autumn quarters.

NEW LIBRARY BOOKS

The Gallagher Law Library recently expanded its collection of books on anti-racism and diversity- and multiculturalism-related topics. The titles include:

INCREASE RESPONSIVE RESEARCH, TEACHING AND PUBLIC SERVICE THAT SUPPORTS AND ADDRESSES ISSUES OF DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION AND MULTICULTURALISM

WEBINAR GUIDE

Since law schools and universities moved online in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the number of videos and webinars about pedagogy and other topics of interest to law schools has exploded. The Gallagher Law Library has created a guide with links to selected online videos. Topics include anti-racism and DEI in law teaching, accessibility, social science for teaching insight and more. Explore the guide.

MODERATE MEANS PROGRAM

UW Law named Kristina Larry as new staff attorney for the UW School of Law Moderate Means Program, a flagship pro bono program that provides students opportunities to work with low-income individuals who need help with family, housing and consumer law issues. Students in the program connect people within 200-400% of the federal poverty level to members of a network of hundreds of lawyers who offer legal help at reduced fees. Learn more about Larry and the program.

RACE AND JUSTICE CLINIC

The Race and Justice Clinic has played an integral role in the fight for systemic bail reform amid COVID-19. Working with the Northwest Community Bail Fund, clinic students are helping the organization recoup funds to secure pretrial releases for defendants who cannot afford it. Learn more about their work.

IMMIGRATION LAW CLINIC

Immigration Law Clinic students secured an asylum-seeker’s release from the Northwest Detention Center during the global pandemic. An autoimmune deficiency put the detained client, who was fleeing death threats in his home country, at higher risk for COVID-19 in the center’s crowded conditions. Read about the clinic’s around-the-clock work to get him out.

This fall, the clinic students will work on advocacy projects in collaboration with local, regional and national immigrants’ rights organizations aimed at addressing the harmful impact of immigration detention, deportation and surveillance on communities of color.

LAW PROFESSOR ADDRESSES UNHRC

Anita Ramasastry, Henry M. Jackson endowed professor of law, was one of two experts to address more than 200 global delegates as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s dialogue on the complex human rights issues raised by the pandemic. Learn more about the work.

TRAININGS AND CONSULTS FOR BIPOC, LGBTQ+ AND WOMEN BUSINESS AND NONPROFIT OWNERS

UW Law Professor Jennifer Fan and Professor Elizabeth Umphress from the UW Foster School of Business have partnered to help entrepreneurs and BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women-owned small businesses and nonprofits mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. Learn more about the initiative.

33rd ANNUAL INDIAN LAW SYMPOSIUM

UW Law's Indian Law Symposium brings together the region’s foremost Indian law experts to discuss important issues facing tribal communities today. The symposium began in September and is held as a monthly webinar series. Each month, leading scholars explore timely new topics and unpack the biggest conversations happening in the field of Indian law. Learn more about the symposium and register.

STUDENT HONORED FOR IMPACT

The UW named Ria Kuruvilla 3L to this year’s Husky 100. The honor is bestowed upon students who are taking their education beyond the classroom and making a difference on campus, in their communities and for the future. Learn more about Kuruvilla’s work to make the legal field more equitable and inclusive.

SPECIAL EVENT SERIES: RULE OF LAW DURING A PANDEMIC

UW Law hosted weekly webinars spotlighting how governments balance public health and human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the series.