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Addressing Systemic Racism VOICES FROM THE FORDHAM LAW COMMUNITY

Message from the Dean

The brutal killing of George Floyd one ago year was a shocking wake-up call. It turned our collective attention to the nation’s ugly and shameful record of racism. It ignited a historic movement for justice and an end to police brutality. And it stirred a profound re-examination of the complex and sophisticated ways in which racism is embedded in our society and our institutions.

At Fordham Law, we responded with a sweeping commitment to understanding how racism infects our own community and taking bold actions to address it. To that end, we developed an Anti-Racism Action Plan with the goal of making real change across three paths: increasing diversity, making Fordham Law more inclusive, and addressing systemic racism.

As we reflect on this moment, we invited members of our community to share their perspectives on addressing systemic racism. You will hear the voices of students, alumni, faculty, and staff as they contemplate both the opportunities for change and the serious challenges that remain as we seek to continue the momentum of this past year.

These are difficult discussions, and we still have a long way to go to making permanent and real change. But it is our responsibility as a law school and as practitioners of the law to continue this work, to stand for justice, and to take action against the scourge of racism.

Matthew Diller

Dean and Paul Fuller Professor of Law

Increasing Diversity and Supporting Students

Abdulai Turay ’22

President, Black Law Students Association, 2020-21

In 2020, the first-year class at Fordham Law ranked 5th for all American law schools in Black male enrollment, which I think is a success. Lots of initiatives have been put forth to expand the pipeline and make the school more equitable. But it’s important to make sure these efforts will be long-term.

This past year, the Law School created the Dean’s Advisory Council on Diversity, which has been a great start because Black students and students of color now have a direct link to speak to Dean Diller about our concerns. We hope the conversations will lead to actual initiatives being implemented.

You’ve seen schools and institutions do performative actions. Everyone is jumping on the racial justice bandwagon because it’s the popular thing to do now. But it’s hard to know whether this is genuine and long-lasting, or just a trend. However, I’m hopeful this is something we can build upon.

There’s been a push for professors to start talking more about race, but the change also has to come from professors themselves. They need to be willing to incorporate topics of race, and to talk about how law affects Black people and people of color. The American power structure, especially in the context of law, usually has a distinct and disparate impact on our communities, and faculty members have to be willing to acknowledge that experience.

Khasim Lockhart ’18

Adjunct Professor and Associate at Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP

The George Floyd video forced institutions to take a long hard look at themselves, just as they were taking a long hard look at the video. The students I advise have been products of what the school has done to help students of color. But there is still a long way to go. We need more African-Americans and students of color at the table.

In 2017, when I was president of the Black Law Students Association, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Linda Sugin met with me and a classmate and asked how Fordham Law can support Black students. Last spring, she picked my brain again, and this was before Floyd’s murder and the renewed urgency about diversity. She asked if I’d like to co-teach a peer mentorship class, and we realized one way we can change the legal community is through cross-cultural mentoring, which we added last year.

Less than four percent of attorneys are Black, so chances are a Black attorney like myself won’t have a mentor who looks like me, and chances are my mentee won’t look like me. Cross-cultural mentoring lets people be effective mentors for someone from another background, and this helps with retention, because many African-Americans don't feel at home in the legal industry. For Dean Sugin to recognize the importance of this mentorship is reflective of Fordham. The school doesn't want to be just okay with the status quo.

Jennifer Haastrup GSS ’19

Program Manager for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Last year, around the George Floyd murder, students of color expressed that they felt alone and could only talk among themselves. Since then, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Diversity Kimathi Gordon-Somers, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kamille Dean, and I have come together to provide spaces for students of color to express what’s really going on with them. Yes, we’re administrators, but we’re people of color too, and in these spaces, we are able to take off our administrator hats and be real and honest about what’s happening in our community.

Anxiety and depression are common among law students. For students of color, there’s an additional layer that factors into their experience. It’s not just, “I’m anxious,” but it’s also, “I’m anxious and I don’t want to come off sounding unintelligent, because as a Black student people may look at me and wonder how I got here.” It’s not just, “I’m depressed,” but it’s also “I’m a student of color who has to deal with being the only student of color in the classroom.” We’re working to normalize mental health and wellness, and we want students to know they are not alone. In addition to our office, students have had access to the counseling center and our after-hours clinical social worker and Fordham Graduate School of Social Service Professor Madeline Maldonado, LCSW.

Students of color have been incredibly resilient during this time. With everything going on, they still showed up, went to class, and put their best foot forward. There’s still more for us to do. But where we've started is a great foundation that we can build upon, especially if we continue to listen to what students are telling us.

Leah Hill

Clinical Associate Professor

After the murder of George Floyd, there was a tremendous amount of pain expressed throughout our community. Underrepresented students were particularly vocal in expressing their lived experiences of racism throughout the Law School and demanding change at every level. Although they bore the brunt of many of the alienating experiences in the classroom and community, they found the generosity to contribute to making Fordham Law a more inclusive and diverse community.

I credit all of the students who stepped up and gave so much of themselves—communicating their ideas to the administration, planning programs, participating in town halls, and sharing concrete proposals for how to make structural change for future generations. Dean Matthew Diller showed an openness to hear and learn from them, and he called on the entire community to commit to anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Office of Student Affairs, led by Assistant Dean Kimathi Gordon-Somers and Kamille Dean, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, worked tirelessly to support students, implement new programs, and keep the student voice front and center in the many conversations we had about these issues.

We recognize that the steps we’ve taken this year are just the first steps in a long overdue, multi-year project to address structural racism in our community. The findings from our racial climate study will give us real data to work with as we embark on creating a strategic plan.

While we acknowledge the work thus far, we have a long way to go. One area I am particularly concerned with is increasing diversity generally and, in particular, in the number of Black students who enroll at Fordham Law. I see it as a moral imperative that our school reflect the diversity of our city.

Making Law School More Inclusive

Kimathi Gordon-Somers

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity

One of our first initiatives was the creation of a Dean’s Advisory Council on Diversity, where we invited student leaders to meet regularly to discuss issues relating to diversity at the law school. The perspectives of the members helped us to identify specific issues on which to focus. The conversations were not easy at first. We worked together to develop a good working relationship and generated ideas to ensure that DEI issues permeate the Law School. As an example, we developed programs to ensure equity on the journals and competition teams by implementing training opportunities for their leadership. Additionally, the Council developed the idea of a diversity and inclusion chair position on the Student Bar Association (SBA) board, and the SBA agreed to amend its constitution to include this position.

We are also enhancing our Increasing Diversity in Education and the Law (IDEAL) pipeline program to bring in a more diverse group of college students, and this year we will launch the Realizing Excellence and Access to the Law (REAL) program to support incoming first-year students from underrepresented or marginalized communities.

We will go through growing pains, but at the end of the day, we’ll become the institution we aspire to be. I’m confident we will get there.

Elizabeth Cooper

Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Feerick Center for Social Justice

One of the points the Black Lives Matter movement has made—and others fighting racism for decades have made—is how important it is for white people to take responsibility for their own education about the ways racism plays out and is experienced. Being part of the larger culture means white people have to be particularly conscious and work hard to undo— and not perpetuate—either individual racism or structural racism.

Students of color have articulated they would rather faculty endeavor to talk about race and racism than pretend it doesn't exist. And that means not only dealing with the offensive statements someone might make, but also recognizing the historical context in which much U.S. law has developed.

I very much believe that unless we're working to end explicit and implicit racism, those evils will only grow larger. And if my generation can do better than the generation that came before us, and the next generation can do better than my generation and the next after that, then these are all important progressions. But I think that now, as in perhaps the civil rights movement in the 1960s, we are at another significant inflection point where the incrementalism of the last decades is no longer acceptable, and bigger strides towards social justice have to be made now, quickly.

Nicholas Loh

Co-Vice President, Asian Pacific Americans Law Students Association, 2020-21

I’m humbled by my colleagues’ courage and the work they’ve taken on in the service of making Fordham a more inclusive space for all.

It takes courage to raise your hand and challenge the dominant narrative that the law is colorblind. Those of us who have been dehumanized in the judicial opinions we study are speaking out, even when it’s implied that bringing race to the surface is less rigorous than the kind of legal analysis we’re supposed to be learning. It takes courage to refuse to glide past the slurs and the erasure of our people. It takes courage to speak out, to write, and to produce scholarship in the face of the imposter syndrome and internalized racism that have seeded doubt and colonized our minds.

My colleagues have done all this and more, all while being constantly reminded of the myriad ways the law falls short of recognizing our full dignity. In this next chapter of the work, we need more faculty of color, and we need to seek out and destroy all the insidious ways “white” is viewed as “normal” and deviations from that are “wrong.” Fordham won’t be inclusive as long as that inclusivity is conditioned on assimilation.

Maraiya Hakeem

Corporate Associate, Pryor Cashman LLP

I'm confident that institutions can improve and evolve over time, and I’m happy there are now action plans around diversity and inclusion at Fordham Law. For the efforts to succeed, however, they must be immersive. You have to be able to feel the culture of diversity and inclusivity the moment you walk through the doors.

When I was a law student, informal mentorship from faculty of color, and with fellow students, informed much of my experience. Mentoring from 3Ls, faculty, or alums can reassure students of color that the challenges they’re facing aren’t unique or insurmountable.

These students may be the first attorneys in their families, and there are many points in their careers where they can feel discouraged. None of that speaks to their character and capability, but they don’t know that. As a student of color, it might be difficult to know what mentorship opportunities exist. If the school would provide an overview of what mentorship can look like, it would be helpful in explaining to students that mentorship can be as frequent as weekly meetings, or it can be just reaching out to ask someone a few questions.

I believe the school is on the road to creating a more diverse, inclusive community, and look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming months and years.

Kimberly Ayudant ’21

President, Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA) 2020–2021

Throughout my law school experience, I have drawn strength from the affinity group leaders. I have always looked to them as pillars of determination, resilience and grit—working tirelessly to advocate for their members, inside and outside of the classroom. This past year, I was proud to see the rest of the Law School community give the overdue and well-deserved recognition to these student leaders. The affinity groups have always leaned on one another, but it is now time for them to be able to lean on their allies as well. If we are to continue to implement the necessary long-term and institutional change, the voices of the underrepresented need to be at the forefront of our conversations. I am hopeful that new initiatives at the Law School such as Dialogue Days, which is aimed at promoting deeper connections and thoughtful conversation among Law School members, will embed a sense of respect and inclusivity within our Fordham community. Ultimately, it is up to each member of the Fordham Law community, including the administration, faculty, staff, and students, to actively engage in anti-racism work and make an impact both inside and outside of the Law School. The Fordham Law community has the leaders to make this possible and I look forward to continuing to contribute to this work as a Fordham Law alumnus.

Learn how Fordham is working to make the law school experience more welcoming and inclusive to all groups

Addressing Systemic Racism

Angelica Kang

Chief Diversity Officer, City of Albany

We’re in the phase where we’re seeing a lot of commitment to allyship and anti-racism. The process usually comes in three phases: First the public feels horror about what’s going on, then commits to allyship and education—which, without action, are simply platitudes—and the third part is actually doing the work. Doing the work is the hard part—the buy-in. That means not just appointing one or two people to do everything and taking credit for their work when it’s successful or scapegoating them when it’s not, but on a daily basis actively working to dismantle the ways systemic racism and white supremacy show up in yourself and in the institutions we work in.

People hired to “solve” systemic racism are usually people of color, people who’ve been harmed by systemic racism, and now have to do all the work to fix a problem we didn’t create. If we want things to improve, we need to put in the resources, including people and money. I’m lucky I work for the City of Albany, since many municipalities aren’t doing anything.

It irks me when municipal leaders say, “We hear what the BIPOC population is saying, but we still want them to behave or protest or dissent in a certain way we think is ‘good for society.’” It’s the idea that we will allow you into our spaces only if you meet our standard of success or respectability.

How does a law school grapple with that? We should be looking at the question of how do we create healthy, rigorous schools that still create the best attorneys but are more community-based and people-centric?

Kamille Dean

Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Over the past year, Fordham Law has been actively engaged in initiatives to dismantle systemic racism in legal education and the profession. We’ve made important strides in preparing the next generation of culturally competent attorneys, and we’re committed to providing students of color and those from marginalized identities with the tools they need for success.

As an administrator focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, I am committed to developing innovative programming that will start to move the needle forward during this pivotal time. Fordham Law’s pipeline program, Increasing Diversity in Education and the Law (IDEAL), provides an on-ramp to law school for promising candidates from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Our Realizing Excellence and Access to the Law (REAL) program immerses incoming 1L students in academic, professional, mentorship, and wellness support to help overcome obstacles arising from structural barriers in legal education.

We dedicate extensive resources to ongoing diversity and anti-racism training. In addition, we devoted an entire day in the spring orientation to interactive sessions with expert legal practitioners on various aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession.

Our anti-racism strategic plan is designed, in part, to position our graduates towards outreach and impact within diverse communities. I’m optimistic about the potential for transformative change with the support of our students, faculty, and staff.

Bennett Capers

Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Race, Law and Justice

The Derek Chauvin verdict was important, but it addressed the symptoms of a problem rather than the underlying causes. My concern is people will feel the job is done, and we can move on to other things. The verdict is no reason to think the fight is over.

The issues of police violence and unequal policing are not going away anytime soon. We have narrow concepts of what counts as a crime, what should be a crime, and what is public safety. For example, why do we have police doing traffic stops or responding to mental health issues?

At the Center on Race, Law and Justice, we’ve been able to respond to this unique moment of racial reckoning with well-attended programs that have brought in scholars from within the law and outside the law to talk about pressing issues of race, policy, and the legal system. But one of the challenges for me as a scholar and as director of the Center this year is to further the discussion about real reforms, as opposed to reforms that just readjust apples on the apple cart instead of upending the apple cart itself.

The hope going forward is to take on more projects that extend the reach of the Center—for example, getting involved in shaping legislation and drafting amicus briefs—so we can work towards making real change.

Roosevelt Ettienne ’22

President, Student Bar Association, 2021-22

The student leadership at Fordham law school is at the forefront of the fight to make a change within the Fordham community. Although there have been a few changes, there is a lot still to be done.

In order for there to be effective, long-lasting change, there must be open communication regarding the current issues in the law school. In an effort to contribute to this initiative, the Student Bar Association created a new diversity and inclusion position. This new leadership position allows for open communication between the administration and underrepresented groups to make Fordham a more welcoming place.

Photo of #BLM protest by Matthew Roth