Message from the Dean: Reflections on Dr. King’s quest for a Beloved Community

Dear UW Law community:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of a Beloved Community, which he believed would be the result of resolving social, economic and political conflicts, reconciling adversaries and advancing social change in our community, nation and world.

According to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Dr. King’s dedication to the Beloved Community was “a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.”

We have work to do to realize Dr. King’s Beloved Community. We recently marked the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at our nation’s capital. That event and its aftermath make it painfully clear that our nation remains deeply conflicted about how and whether to confront the full truth of our own history and our own present. On a global level, stark inequities in access to vaccines during the pandemic shed light on ways that structural inequality prevents millions of people from living without fear of poverty, violence or illness.

Remedying these societal problems will often involve small steps that together, over time, can create lasting change. Recently, under the leadership of Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Bill Covington, we took two such steps.

First, the law school established the Lea B. Vaughn Award for Scholarly Excellence, which recognizes research by UW Law faculty that makes a substantial contribution to the advancement of equity, understood as progress toward racial, economic or social justice. Professor Emeritus Vaughn was a dynamic teacher, a provocative scholar and a model and mentor for students. This award celebrates her lasting impact on UW Law by recognizing works that reflect her values. Thanks to Zahr Said, in partnership with Bill Covington and Mario Barnes, for their leadership to establish this award.

Recipients of this award last year were Angélica Cházaro for her article The End of Deportation, forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review and Lisa Kelly, for Abolition or Reform: Confronting the Symbiotic Relationship Between “Child Welfare” and the Carceral State in the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties.

Honorable mentions went to Mary Fan for her book chapter entitled, The Reasonable Immigrant and the Fake Cop: Duress in Nwoye, in Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Criminal Law Opinions (Bennett Capers, Sarah Deer, Corey Rayburn Young, eds., Cambridge University Press) and to Peter Nicolas for his textbook The Reconstruction Amendments (Carolina Academic Press).

For the second step, this week the faculty adopted community norms for cultivating an inclusive campus climate. These norms will guide us in having productive conversations, even when we disagree. They call for reflection, engagement and awareness of the context in which we speak and act. They ask us to avoid defensiveness, to listen generously and to share power.

These are only some of the ways that we are working to heed Dr. King’s call. You can learn more about our goals in UW Law’s Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Multiculturalism and Antiracism.

I am far from being able to live Dr. King’s values perfectly and I am sure I am not alone. Our lawyerly strengths — quick analysis, logic and an ability to cite the record to drive home a point — can cloud our ability to reflect and have humility. We are all a work in progress.

Whatever you choose to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I encourage you to reflect on Dr. King’s vision for a Beloved Community and look for steps you and our law school community can take to move us closer to making his vision a reality.


E.G. Porter signature

Elizabeth G. Porter
Interim Toni Rembe Dean and Professor of Law