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Excerpted From: Amy C. Gaudion, Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator's View on Adopting an Antiracist Curriculum, 23 Rutgers Race & the Law Review 131 (2021) (76 Footnotes) (Full Document)


AmyCGaudionFor far too long, law schools have been part of the architecture that enables and perpetuates racism, whether through action, inaction, or blind adherence to a hopeful but misguided understanding of the law as a neutral arbiter. Of course, there have been discrete moments and individual institutions that prove counter to this characterization. Such exceptions should be celebrated; these exceptions, however, must be flipped to become the norm. A convergence of recent cataclysmic events, spanning the protests for racial justice during the summer of 2020 to the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, provide an opportunity for law schools to engage in a full and candid accounting of their past failings and their future responsibilities to chart a different course. For years, scholars have offered compelling contributions demonstrating the need for this re-alignment and re-envisioning of legal education. The need is well-documented and undisputed. The question is not whether law schools should engage in this re-alignment, but how. My task with this article is to start to answer that question from the perspective of an academic administrator, typically the associate dean for academic affairs. My hope is to do so in a way that provides an honest account of the hidden, unglamourous and at times gutsy administrative work required to accomplish this re-alignment and re-envisioning, and to offer a roadmap for those who take on this important project.

This article provides a frank assessment of the demanding and rewarding work that is required to put into action the written words of institutional support for implementing an Antiracist curriculum. This article starts, in Part I, by describing the days following the murder of George Floyd, the call for action from Penn State Dickinson Law's Black Law Students Association, and the Penn State Dickinson Law faculty resolutions that committed us to teaching and learning according to Antiracist pedagogy and best practices. Part II describes the resolve to become Antiracist educators, outlines the investments in curricular policy and reform, and details the bureaucratic processes employed to accomplish the following curricular changes: adding a first-year required course on the history of racism and the concept of equal protection of the laws in the United States; adding a J.D. degree requirement that every student take at least one course beyond the first year with subject matter focused on civil rights, equal protection, or social justice; adding a certificate program in civil rights, equal protection, and social justice; and encouraging faculty to re-envision their courses to identify opportunities to integrate discourse about racism and racial equality. Part III explores the knotty but essential task of equipping faculty and staff with the tools needed to deliver an Antiracist curriculum. The law school initiated this task by launching a summer workshop series designed to conduct an honest assessment of the educational community's past failings while providing the resources needed to alter the law school's future course. To accomplish these objectives, the workshops embraced a model that encouraged risk taking, allowed for blunt feedback, and created plenty of space for mistakes. In closing, Part IV offers guidance on how to ensure a sustainable commitment to the delivery of an Antiracist curriculum, including the importance of broadening the definition of legal educator to include law school staff, sharing the implementation work with faculty committees, and engaging student organizations while not burdening them with implementation tasks that unduly interfere with their responsibilities as students. The path from commitment to implementation has involved bumps and curves, some anticipated and others unexpected. As the path continues, a guiding principle remains: to fulfil our responsibilities as legal educators uniquely positioned at “the nexus of power and understanding necessary for change.”

[. . .]

In closing, I share the following provision from the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession ... In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.

As legal educators, we must instill in our students that sense of duty to the rule of the law and give them concrete examples of how lawyers further the public's understanding of our constitutional democracy, as navigators of complicated legal frameworks, as advocates for access, and as conduits for improvement of the law. To do so, law schools must remind students of the fragility of our system of government, and the reliance it places on all citizens. Upon walking out of Independence Hall in 1787, an onlooker supposedly asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government have you given us, to which he famously replied “a Republic, if you can keep it.”

As noted at the outset of this article, legal educators are uniquely positioned at “the nexus of power and understanding necessary for change.” It is our responsibility to equip our students with the tools needed to “keep” the republic. It is equally our responsibility to instill in our students an understanding of the role lawyers play in honestly assessing the law, in calling out its failings, and most importantly in seeking to correct them. To do this effectively, legal educators must embrace an Antiracist curriculum and pedagogy, and the administrators among us must do all we can to lay the groundwork for that embrace.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Lawyering Skills, Penn State Dickinson Law.

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