Town Hall listening sessions effectuate actionable steps to address diversity-related issues

Earlier this year, UW Law began holding Town Hall listening sessions to discuss diversity-related issues and concerns raised by students at the beginning of winter quarter 2020 in the 1L Perspectives class. The listening sessions have become important ways to continue the community conversation on these crucial issues.

KJ Williams, a veteran consultant to individuals, groups and organizations seeking to improve diversity, equity and inclusiveness, facilitated previous meetings. Williams provided recommendations following multiple Town Hall discussions regarding diversity, equity and inclusion within the UW School of Law. These recommendations included strategies and programmatic changes that support efforts to create a safe and welcoming learning and work environment.

The Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DAC-DEI), the Faculty Diversity Committee and Dean Mario L. Barnes discussed these recommendations and began working with faculty, student and administrative leadership on an implementation plan.

Recommendations overview

The following are an overview of the recommendations. UW Law is already implementing many of the recommendations, and a brief update on progress follows. For a more complete look at latest efforts to create a more inclusive UW Law community, read the most recent update published at the beginning of autumn quarter.


Revise Student Orientation to include new messaging, training and support

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 DAC-DEI, and a presentation “Law Leaders and the Communities They Serve.” This programming will continue to be part of future orientations.

Offer racial justice leadership opportunities

DAC-DEI and the Faculty Diversity Committee have identified offering racial justice leadership opportunities as a long-term goal. The committees are determining the best way to implement this recommendation.

Promote and enhance protocols for reporting and addressing incidents of bias and harassment

UW Law’s complaint process was updated and simplified after students brought their concerns to the law school's attention during winter quarter 2020. The academic policy Complaints Related to Inclusiveness, Respect and Cultural Competency was updated. The policy outlines the process and recourse for students who experience bias or microaggressions from faculty, staff or peers. It was implemented in 2011.

Students may report incidents they experience or observe online or by contacting Dean for Students Anna Endter. Students may also schedule an appointment with Dean Endter.

There is an identical process for faculty and staff to report bias or microaggressions as well. Those reports may be made via the same online form or directly to the Director of Human Resources, Equity and Engagement, Sellyna Ehlers, at ehlers59@uw.edu.

A link to the online form is now also available on the UW Law Diversity page.

Revamp the Perspectives on the Law 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 socioeconomic 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 socioeconomic status to the detriment of those groups that already suffer many disadvantages.

The Perspectives Working Group, chaired by Professor Sanne Knudsen, has been meeting and developing recommendations for revising the course.  The group includes students, faculty and staff and is making recommendations for winter quarter Perspectives, recommendations that include the use of speakers. The working group will also address the following questions:

  • How should the course be redesigned for academic years 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.

Establish a clear and transparent process for scholarships and the Diversity Fellowship Program

Student and Career Services has expanded its online materials for students to include additional diversity-related resources. These resources include the latest diversity fellowship postings and application support, affinity bar association mentorship programs, diversity career fair listings and a compilation of research tools to help law students and lawyers research diversity programs and data of legal employers. Students may access the resources via Canvas (UW NetID required).

Identify and enhance curricular opportunities for students to engage in social justice work

The Faculty Diversity Committee is committed to implementing this recommendation as part of the law school's long-term goals. Successful implementation will require increasing the number of faculty who teach social justice. Unfortunately, budget constraints are provide limited opportunity for faculty hiring. The committee plans to begin asking faculty to provide experiential opportunities in the 1L year.

Formalize and grow public interest mentorship opportunities

DAC-DEI has identified growing public interest mentorship opportunities as a long-term goal. The committee will work with Student and Career Services to determine the best way to implement this recommendation.

Initiate summer pre-orientation program for entering students of color

DAC-DEI and the Faculty Diversity Committee are working to determine how best to implement this recommendation. UW Law is working to find funding for a three-year pilot study.

Introduce Spanish for lawyers or an alternate funded/credited opportunity for students to gain second language skills

DAC-DEI and the Faculty Diversity Committee are exploring ways of providing credited opportunities for students to gain second language skills. The law school is working to determine how best to implement this recommendation and hopes to be able to add courses to the curriculum soon.

Develop active resources supporting international and undocumented students

DAC-DEI and the Faculty Diversity Committee have identified offering resources supporting international and undocumented students as a long-term goal. The committees are determining the best way to implement this recommendation. Some services are already being offered. Students who need resources should contact Dean Endter

Increase faculty diversity and cultural competency

The UW School of Law administration is committed to increasing faculty diversity and cultural competency UW Law, and 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.

The University has recently given approval to hire a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who is a Native American Law scholar. More information about this search is forthcoming.