Managing racially charged classroom conversations

UW Law faculty will have the opportunity to learn to manage challenging classroom conversations more effectively while remaining focused on student wellness thanks to a recent UW Diversity & Inclusion Seed Grant.

The grant will fund a new training program, “The Psychology of Learning: Tips on Managing Difficult Classroom Conversations.” The program will address curriculum, improve the environment at the school and help create a more inclusive learning environment. It will help instructors develop their skills in handling difficult and challenging conversations through progressive trainings.

The Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity and University Diversity Officer Offer Diversity and Inclusion Seed Grants quarterly. These small grants support projects for institutional transformation across the University of Washington’s tri-campus community that align with the goals of the 2017-2021 UW Diversity Blueprint.

UW Law’s seed grant was a joint effort by William Covington, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion; Sellyna Ehlers, director of human resources, equity and engagement; and Lisa Castilleja, director of inclusion initiatives, community outreach & alumni relations.

This training will work towards meeting Goal 1 of the UW Diversity Blueprint: Cultivate an inclusive campus climate. It also supports the goals outlined in UW Law’s Strategic Plan for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Multiculturalism and the recently launched DEI strategic training plan.

“While faculty are the focus of the training, the program will also include opportunities for staff engagement,” Ehlers said. “Ultimately, it will benefit the entire UW Law community and help cultivate an inclusive climate within the law school and across UW.”

“Our staff play a critical role in coordinating coursework, answering students’ questions, serving as counselors and mentors, and offering student support services,” Ehlers said. “Allowing staff to participate in training ensures that the entire UW Law Community moves forward on the same path to create an inclusive learning environment.”

UW Law’s project was one of nine to be awarded throughout the UW community during this cycle of Diversity & Inclusion Seed Grants. Trainings will be scheduled in spring quarter.

DEI updates

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

Training sessions

In February, a faculty meeting was devoted to a training for all classroom instructors. The training included a facilitated discussion of trauma, safety and bravery in the classroom. It explored various tools instructors can employ to speak freely, candidly and with compassion. Instructors used a variety of evidence-based scenarios to shape the discussion. The scenarios represented actual situations students have reported. They were both scenarios in which the stimulus for the conflict in the classroom was not caused by the instructor, but nonetheless poses a quandary for the instructor in terms of responding quickly and effectively. A follow-up training with role-playing exercises helped faculty further hone these skills.

Student Activities and Opportunities

  • Justice Charles Z Smith Heritage Symposium, ”Beyond the Wall, Cross-Border Responses to a Humanitarian Crisis” also Justice Charles Z. Smith awards to be presented May 4, 2021. Learn more.
  • New counselor, Phil Lentz, Let’s Talk series specifically for law students, which will be called Holding Court. More details on this series is forthcoming.

Perspectives course

UW Law students, faculty and staff reimagined the 1L Perspectives course to return as a national speaker series in winter quarter. The course, a key part of the 1L curriculum, featured leading voices in service of diversifying the lens through which first-year-students study law. Learn more about this work.

‘Abolition and the Law’ Speaker Series

The “Abolition and the Law” Speaker Series included four lectures open to the UW Law community in the winter quarter. Increasingly, lawyers and legal institutions are called upon to engage with calls for abolition as social movements make demands of the state in ways that deeply implicate legal structures long-considered inviolable. This course and speaker series addressed the role of law and lawyers in social movements for abolition and analyzed how lawyers contribute to — or stand in the way of — imagining and moving toward the abolition of policing and punishment.

The series also examined what distinguishes reform efforts in line with abolitionist politics with those that preserve the status quo, as well as the implications of the turn toward abolition for long-standing criminal justice reform efforts often led by lawyers. The community explored some of the modes of addressing harm that abolitionists are trying to build, as well as the overlap between movements for racial justice and those for abolition.

Topics included the tension between abolition and reform in dismantling the carceral state, making abolition geographies, the role of law in entrenching — and correcting — systemic inequities, and local and national perspectives on the movement to defund the police.

Mental health counselor

UW Law welcomed Phil Lentz as the new full-time mental health counselor for UW Law students. Lentz, who also has a joint appointment with the UW Counseling Center, is licensed in Washington for the independent practice of mental health counseling, and he is now available to meet with UW Law students who need support with mental health and wellness.

His therapeutic services to students are free and do not require health insurance. Lentz has outstanding skills in clinical assessment, psychotherapy and counseling, crisis management and psychoeducation, and is deeply committed to racial and social justice.

New library materials

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


UW Law recently received a new gift to the Law Justice Scholarship Fund. This two-year gift of $50,000 per year will support the entering classes of 2021 and 2022. Justice Fund Scholarships are the result of major gifts intended to increase diversity in the UW School of Law student community. In service of that mission, UW Law offered eight new scholarships in 2020-21 that contributed to a 9% year-over-year increase in students of color among the Class of 2023. Learn more about the JD class diversity.

Law library series, Diverse Voices

The Gallagher Law Library blog featured a new series “Diverse Voices,” which highlights books, databases and research guides amplifying voices of lawyer-leaders from the legal profession’s underrepresented communities.

Black Lawyers Matter series

The UW Law community celebrated the successes that Black lawyers and law students have and continue to bring about through the inspiring work of UW Law graduates and students whose stories were presented during Black History Month. Those included:

Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DAC-DEI)

DAC-DEI hosts regular meetings on the fourth Monday of each month from 12:30-1:20 p.m. All faculty, staff and students are welcome to join the conversation. This group is charged with providing updates on goals and accomplishments within the law school’s diversity blueprint. This group helps prioritize next steps and critical action needed to help move the school forward. The group also helps create safe space to have open discussions about all things related to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as how internal and external affairs impact our community.

Diversity Dean open hours

Dean Covington held open hours throughout winter quarter to allow students, staff and faculty to drop in to discuss DEI issues. Those sessions will continue in spring quarter.