Dear Michigan Law School community,

The #BlackLivesMatter movement does not represent a new fight or a novel message. #BlackLivesMatter is only the current name on an ever-present struggle. The University, in its own right, has struggled with race since this law school was founded, since Gabriel Franklin Hargo received his diploma, since we fought in our nation’s highest court to protect our commitment to diversity.

The core message of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has always existed in different forms, under different banners, calling attention to the continued racial oppression of minorities in American society. In its most recent iteration, the movement grew in response to the posthumous trial of Trayvon Martin for his own murder. #BlackLivesMatter, per its website, is “Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our de-humanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.”

This letter is the University of Michigan Law School community’s contribution to the #BlackLivesMatter National Law Student Day of Action that occurred on April 2, 2015.

It cannot be overstated that critical race and economic discourses in higher education — especially law school — are at best overlooked and at worst invalidated and misrepresented. Support from faculty and administration is an important institutional validation of students’ desire to self-educate about the legal hardships burdening racial minorities in this country.

Law schools have an imperative to take this movement seriously, and to reflect on our own role in perpetuating systems of racial oppression. Beyond reflection, we also have an obligation to take action. The law, truthfully, is both part of the problem and part of the solution. Here, at the University, many student organizations and professors have responded to recent events through activism at the Law School. But we can and must do more.

***

We call on our Michigan Law community to achieve the following:

First, we ask students to recognize their own power to change the classroom discourse on race and the law;

To demand race-conscious, intersectional conversations in classrooms from professors and each other;

To push for a curriculum that challenges students to think creatively about the law, so as to advance color-conscious claims on behalf of clients;

To continue to work with one another to shift the collective consciousness of the Law School beyond acknowledgment of racial inequality and toward tangible solutions;

To include people of color in student-led programming; and,

To remember that as law students, we are entering a space of privilege and power, and it is our obligation, regardless of our future career paths, to continue to check our own biases and role in perpetuating inequality and oppression.

All students, regardless of career path, seek acknowledgement and meaningful inclusivity by students, faculty and administration. As peers, we have an obligation to pursue honest conversations with one another about race and other marginalized identities.

Next, we call on faculty to actively take on the challenge of incorporating discussions of race into their classrooms and curriculums;

To nurture passionate and conscientious students, who respect each others’ diverse backgrounds and experiences;

To talk about race, recognize that the facts of cases matter, especially those involving race, and to include them in discussion. In taking the safest route toward teaching the cases, by avoiding such facts, professors are implicitly teaching students to accept the cases as they stand. Professors control the dialogue, and fear of losing control is not a sufficient justification for ignoring these demands;

To reevaluate their pedagogy, regardless of tenure, and incorporate social justice dialogues along the way, not just while discussing Goetz or Dred Scott;

To, with administration, recruit and tenure minority faculty, both in gender and race; and,

To question the status quo, give historical context to the casebook, and confront the realities of social inequality and injustice head on. The law does not stand separate from the society and history from which it is produced.

If these demands seem shortsighted or too burdensome, we pose these questions to the faculty: If these difficult conversations do not occur during law school, when are students to learn the practical consequences of the cases we study and ultimately litigate? If not now, then at what stage in our legal careers should we open our eyes to the social, political and historical realities that perpetuate racial and class hierarchies?

Finally, we call on the Law School administration to support students and faculty in accomplishing these goals.

It is an obvious reality that there are significant hurdles facing minority law school applicants. From the outset, minorities must overcome a variety of economic, educational, social and political hurdles just to get their foot in the door. The racial composition of our Law School, and the legal field at large, unequivocally demonstrates this fact.

Because of these realities, we ask that the administration continue to recruit minority applicants to our Law School, intentionally providing a culture and classroom that is supportive and welcoming to all students, for the benefit of all students.

We ask everyone to take a stand. Students, faculty and administrators should be an active voice in the local and national movement — host events, contribute to scholarship, make public statements of support. Keep the momentum alive. Injustice remains. We must act — today. Take a picture of yourself holding a sign that says, “MLaw believes #BlackLiveMatter” and post to social media with the #BlackLivesMatter and #MLaw.

***

The University has always taken a leadership role in addressing longstanding racial inequalities. In casebooks, we are remembered for resolutely defending affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger — and we must continue to protect such important principles.

Michigan Law is an undeniably special place. Our aim in this letter is to show support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and improve race-based dialogues and practices within our community. We believe that though much been done already, there is much more that we can do.

The following individuals and organizations have endorsed the aforementioned goals:

From Michigan Law:

Black Law Students Association
National Lawyers Guild
Racial Justice Coalition
Michigan Journal of Law Reform
Student Rights Project
Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Michigan Immigration and Labor Law Association
Michigan Journal of Race & Law
Asian Pacific American Law Students Association
Human Rights Advocates
Latino Law Student Association
ACLU Student Chapter

Other legal organizations and firms:

Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice
Julie Hurwitz (’82), Partner, Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C.
Marilyn Mullane, Director, Michigan Legal Services.
John F. Royal, President, National Lawyers Guild, Michigan/Detroit Chapter

Written by Law students Meredith Osborne, Miriam Schachter, Sophie Wolman, Jessica Gingold, Amina Kirk, Divya Taneja, Peter Calloway, Jim Thurman and Nick Kabat..

Correction: A previous version of the story attributed authorship to the United Coalition for Racial Justice. The Racial Justice Coalition is not affiliated with the United Coalition for Racial Justice.

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