#RacismLivesHereToo: Day 1
“I am wearing a yellow ribbon because a professor or fellow student has expressed racist or prejudicial sentiments towards me, or has subjected me to microaggressions.”
Few have more at stake in the consequences of legal education than communities of color and other marginalized groups. Many of us enter law school seeking an experience that enables us to undo the oppressive legal structures that prior generations of legal scholars, practitioners, and students were complicit in creating and defending. Instead, what we encounter is an ongoing and unrepentant failure on the part of these schools to create space for different voices, perspectives, and experiences to bear weight on the study and practice of the law. At a time where millions of people of color are threatened by mass deportations, a religious ban, mass incarceration, public divestment, and an assault on basic civil rights; this law school and its peers have not acted sufficiently to change an institutional culture that is directly implicated in the continued marginalization of people of color (POC) both within and outside of these four walls.
Two weeks ago, students of color at Stanford Law School took a stand by launching the “Racism Lives Here Too” campaign, deciding that the school can no longer deny that students of color are constantly subjected to an education marred by racial antagonism. Each day of the week was themed with a topic matter painfully relatable to communities of color. Directly affected students brandished color-themed ribbons in solidarity. This innovative initiative has spread to law schools around the country due to the inescapable fact of minority truths: students of color everywhere must navigate a scholarship that rejects their identities while simultaneously holding it against them. NYU School of Law is no different.
Today, and every day this week, we bring this initiative to NYU School of Law. We will not tolerate dismissal. We will not tolerate displacement. And we will not tolerate a school that fails to see that it is a part of the problem.
To begin the week, we are calling attention to language, attitudes, and beliefs on campus.
Here are a few of our experiences.
“The day after the election last year, at 9 AM, a Civil Procedure professor lectured the class about how everyone is upset when “their side” loses, but we should get over it, and that there are good people on both sides, as if the election of a president who won on white supremacist promises was business as usual.” -2L
A famous human rights litigator and professor came to talk to our class about defending Guantanamo detainees. She discussed the challenges of working with less “sophisticated” clients. She defined this sophistication by the number of western languages these clients spoke, and whether or not they had lived in western countries or been educated there. Conversely, she described her unsophisticated clients, who she claimed had a hard time understanding the lawyer-client relationship, as being not “well-traveled” which is code for traveling to the west, and not well educated, which is code for being educated in the west. She also referred to her middle eastern female clients as not that bright because they are all so sheltered. Not a single student questioned or challenged the civilized west/uncivilized east narrative she was perpetuating. She was supposed to be an example for what success looks like in the human rights field, never mind her deep seated racism and disdain for the cultures of her non-white clients. — 2L
“In order to style my hair, I oftentimes wear curlers. One night, I headed downstairs to the main lobby of Hayden in order to grab a food order. I entered the elevator with my curlers, and a fellow student asked what was up with my hair. I joked that I was heading to a rave. And he responded, ‘Oh, I thought it was just ghetto.’ ” — 2L
To be clear, this week of action is not the product of a single comment, interaction, or exchange. This is about more than microaggressions, bigoted remarks, and cultural incompetence. This week is about challenging this school to overcome its institutional incompetence in integrating people of color into our community. We demand this school and its peers to do more to leverage its resources and radically redesign its structure to ensure that the lives of communities of color are no longer threatened and harmed by its students.
The law school has a special obligation to reflect the nation as a whole. Each community should be afforded the opportunity to defend itself from the abuses of the state. Nonetheless, the lives of 2.2 million incarcerated people, 12 million undocumented people, millions of children of color experiencing poverty, and many others are deprived of their rights by a system that won’t even allow access to this profession.
Stanford, NYU, Chicago, HLS, and others may be geographically and culturally distinct, however, they represent some of the most elite institutions in our country, and collectively shape the culture of the law and the lives of those who are subject to it. This week is about making our schools reflective of and accountable to people of color by incorporating our perspectives, experiences, and voices into our studies and practice. Together, we hope that we can begin the process of reimagining a more equitable and transformative idea of legal education and practice.
A Coalition of Students of Color