Dear UW Law Community:

As I write this message, I am in a place of deep sadness and concern for our community. The last 48 hours in our country have been incredibly disturbing. In Seattle and across the country, we have seen peaceful protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I hurt for the families and friends who have suffered the loss of these loved ones, who died needlessly.                                            

We have also seen shocking displays of public violence perpetrated by some responding to these unjust killings and others who have hijacked this moment for their own purposes. I hurt for those who are so frustrated by these far too common examples of racial violence that they have lashed out in this way.

In response to these acts, a number of scholars and commentators have mentioned that in a 1967 speech at Stanford University, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described riot as “the language of the unheard.” His words were not meant to condone such acts; none of us should. This quote from our nation’s foremost advocate for nonviolent protest, however, should encourage us to try to understand the pain, anger, frustration and hopelessness behind those acts and to seek to address the underlying inequitable conditions out of which they have grown. Like Dr. King, ultimately, I find these acts to be socially destructive and that they compound the sense of trauma and loss many of us are feeling right now.

The events of the last two days add to the anguish, pain and stress we feel on top of worries connected to the coronavirus pandemic — a crisis too that has disproportionately impacted persons of color — our altered teaching and test-taking conditions, and the numerous personal and professional uncertainties facing our community.

Even as I struggle to find the words to address these feelings, I know we cannot let this current distress be our undoing. We must persevere, understanding that our commitments to justice, each other as a community and the rule of law, provide us tools to respond even in the midst of dark times.

For members of UW Law’s Black community, please know we see you and acknowledge the rage, hurt, fear and isolation you are feeling. Though I am keenly aware of my place of privilege in this institution, as an African American man, I also occupy a body and social identity that, despite my individual merits, mark me as dangerous and as more likely than others to be subject to indiscriminate state violence. In the midst of these challenging times, please know that we stand with you in the pursuit of equality and justice. We are here to ease the hurt and uplift you; we are in community with you.

Out of care and concern for our community — and particularly our students — who have been impacted by these events or other incidents of hate speech or bias, you may contact:

  • Students: Anna Endter, our Dean for Students
  • Staff and faculty: Sellyna Ehlers, our Director of Human Resources, Equity and Engagement

Instructors, I want to echo today’s letter from UW leadership to be responsive to the needs of your students, especially those who are members of the Black community, who may request accommodations as we conclude the school year. Students, if you need accommodations, please reach out to Dean Endter.

Though I am struggling at this moment, our commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion at UW Law is unwavering. We remain invested in the work required to become an institution focused on promoting antiracism inside and outside of our walls. 

Through your engagement within our town hall meetings throughout the year, you have repeatedly demonstrated the positive impact of enrolling students with diverse experiences and perspectives. At this critical time, we must be attentive to addressing our internal issues and anxieties, but also ask how we can participate in the project of protecting the vulnerable and healing our broader communities. 

As a law school community, we have an obligation and play a vital role in ensuring that equity and justice prevail throughout our society. Yes, we are hurting now, but we are not defeated. 

My personal plan for combating this despair is to challenge myself to do something to advance Dr. King’s call for perseverance, “whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” This weekend, I agreed to serve on the National Bar Association Police Brutality Task Force. I encourage each of you to seek out your own opportunities to be the change we so desperately need.

Stay safe. Take action.

In solidarity,

Mario L. Barnes
Toni Rembe Dean and Professor of Law
University of Washington School of Law

Read recent letters by UW President Ana Mari Cauce to the university community, Lifting the veil: understanding the clarity this moment offers, and UW Vice President Rickey Hall’s message, Antiracism work is all of our work.