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Harvard Law Affinity Groups Call for Diversity Committee

Harvard Law School Library.
Harvard Law School Library. By Amy Y. Li
By Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

A coalition of 10 Harvard Law School student affinity groups called on Dean John F. Manning ‘82 to establish a Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in a letter published Monday in the Harvard Law Record, the school’s student publication.

The coalition wrote that they would ultimately like to see the school open a distinct office to address concerns about diversity, inclusion, and equity, created by this committee.

“We call on Dean Manning to establish a Harvard Law School Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (“Committee”) charged with designing an Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (“Office”); tracking implementation and progress on the Office; and monitoring the wellbeing of students until one year after the operation of the Office,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by the Affinity Group Coalition, a group of Law School student affinity groups including the Black Law Students Association, the Executive Board of the Women’s Law Association, and La Alianza — the Law School’s Latinx student organization.

The coalition criticized the administration’s response to student recommendations made in an addendum to a 2017 report from the Task Force on Academic Community and Student Engagement. Commissioned by former Law School Dean Martha L. Minow following protests in 2016, the task force looked at Law students’ experience at the school in four areas: institutional culture, curriculum, mentoring, and institutional supports.

“HLS has failed to implement a majority of the recommendations, including the development of a Critical Race Theory program and hosting public town halls to address HLS norms and culture,” the letter states, in references to the addendum’s recommendations.

Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells wrote in an emailed statement that the school has created a number of new mentoring and advising initiatives in the past year such as a new online platform to help students connect with each other, a pre-orientation course for incoming first-year students, and a preferred lender program for student loans.

“The Law School has long had an unwavering commitment to creating a strong and inclusive community that is diverse along multiple dimensions,” Sells wrote. “We will continue to meet with all students, faculty, and staff to further deepen our sense of community.”

In their letter, the coalition also outlined how they envision the committee to be structured. They proposed that the committee be made up of a combination of faculty, staff, and students and focus on issues like diversity, pedagogy, and culture.

Demarquin D. Johnson, a second-year Law student and one of the letter’s authors, said the Law School needs to do a better job understanding these issues.

“Currently, the Law School is unable to recognize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity in every aspect of it,” Johnson said. “It’s not only important in the recruitment side, it’s also important in the way that faculty are teaching in the classroom, it’s important when you think about the alumni, it’s important when you think about the finances, it’s important when you think about the Law School experience.”

Johnson added that it was critical that a new office be devoted to these issues.

“It can not be simplified into just like a back office in the Dean of Students Office because it needs its own office,” Johnson said.

Lauren D. Williams, a third-year Law student and president of the Black Law Students Association, said her organization’s main concern was the lack of a consistent faculty position dedicated to teaching critical race theory.

“I have been here for three years and there hasn’t been someone on staff consistently teaching a course like Critical Race Theory and we’ve definitely been pushing,” Williams said.

Williams also said that other schools have similar committees, pointing to the University of Chicago Law School’s Diversity Committee as one example.

“As kind of a pioneering space in the academy, HLS — there’s no reason why they shouldn't get in front of this too,” Williams said.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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