Incoming BIPOC students find community and receive encouragement for law school

In the beautiful wood-paneled setting of the UW Intellectual House, Tyler Hwang (1L) from Tacoma, Washington is grateful for the candid discussion he’s just heard from a panel of UW Law alumni representing the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

The bulk of Hwang’s undergraduate work focused on advocacy for the Asian American community. In meetings with city council members and state senators, he noticed a real need to include Asian American perspectives.

“You go through your Rolodex of people who are in Asian American politics,” Hwang said, “and it’s very, very thin. To see a good number of Asian Americans in this room is comforting. I’m glad we have the opportunity to apply to law school and study the law.”

Hwang’s gratitude for an inclusive community was shared by UW Law alumna Lynnyetta Keller, a Perkins Coie associate who transferred to UW Law from Gonzaga Law and graduated with her J.D. degree in 2016. Both Hwang and Keller were attending the community-building happy hour following the alumni panel as part of retreat programming with the theme “Justice…Equity…Diversity…Inclusion: Using Our Minds to Change the World.”

“When I was at Gonzaga, I was the only black female student in the entire law school — not just in my class, but the entire law school. That made it a lonely experience, which made me transfer to UW Law,” Keller said. “When I realized at UW that I wasn’t the only black student in the entire law school, that made a difference.”

Keller returns to UW Law to participate in functions like the BIPOC retreat because she was personally supported by the BIPOC community here.  On the alumni panel at the Intellectual House, Keller was joined by Sara Ayoub (J.D. '06, LL.M '07 in Asian Law), Veronica Galvan (J.D. '94), Brooke Pinkham (J.D. '07), Tyler Quillin (J.D. '17), Sandip Soli (J.D. '99) and Yan (Regina) Song (LL.M. '17).

“One of the biggest things that was helpful for me is having other students, other alumni who are willing to come speak to me, who were willing to be helpful and open to calls for advice. That was just very helpful, and that's something that is important to me,” Keller said. “I think it's important as an alum to come talk to students, let them know that they're not alone in their experiences, and welcome everyone with open arms.”

On behalf of the faculty, Bill Covington, UW Law’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, welcomed the incoming BIPOC students, saying, “We’re invested in your success. You are about to embark on an academic adventure which will lead to a dynamic and exciting career. Every one of us wants to see you succeed and be the best possible lawyer you can be. Don’t feel shy about asking for help.” Covington encouraged the incoming students to take advantage of opportunities to try new things, including experiential education like clinics, externships and internships.

Retreat programming included faculty- and staff-led sessions on breaking out of one’s comfort zone, thriving with social network support, building confidence in the classroom and advancing advocacy efforts and academic success.

Licensed clinical psychologist Isaiah Pickens flew in to offer guidance on emotionally intelligent advocacy with an eye toward brave conversations in school and in life. His interactive workshop was well received by students.