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Statements from the KU Law community on fighting racial injustice

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Updated Friday, June 12, 2020 at 11:45 a.m.

The University of Kansas School of Law is committed to the actions and values of diversity, equity and inclusion outlined in Chancellor Girod's and Provost Bichelmeyer's message to the KU community on June 2. This page includes messages to the KU Law community addressing racial injustice, as well as calls to action from law student organizations. 


On June 1, Dean Stephen Mazza sent a message to the KU Law community expressing support and solidarity with marginalized communities and those protesting racial injustice:

Dear KU Law Community,

We recently posted to our social media account a message from Jennifer Ng, the Interim Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity at KU. I want to follow up by making it crystal clear that the Law School condemns violence against people of color. We support students, faculty, and staff who protest against violence and who support movements to make meaningful changes in our society.

As a Law School, it is our responsibility to foster understanding of not only the successes of our institutions and our democracy, but the failings as well. The preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct tell us that a lawyer is a “public citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of justice.” That responsibility is particularly difficult to fulfill when so many are reeling with anger, frustration, sadness, and fear from witnessing the current manifestations of racism’s deep wounds — from the heartbreaking and alarming acts of violence against Black communities to the disparate effects of COVID-19 on those same communities. We stand in solidarity with these communities and we see and acknowledge that anger, frustration, sadness, and fear. While holding the space for those feelings, we are committed to embodying the Model Rules’ directive to be a public citizen with a special responsibility for the quality of justice.   

Many readers may view this email as little more than words of comfort. I understand that sentiment. Know, however, that we will redouble our efforts to create an environment within Green Hall in which issues of racial injustice are discussed openly. We will also follow up on action items being prepared at the University level to address these important concerns.

Please feel free to reach out to me directly to share your thoughts and suggestions.

Stephen Mazza
Dean and Professor of Law


On June 5, the leadership of the Black Law Students Association shared this message with KU Law students, faculty and staff (view the statement as a PDF):

For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we watched the taking of yet another life at the hands of those whose duty is to serve and protect. We reach out today as we continue to grapple with the devastation caused by the most recent instances in a continuation of generations of violence against Black people in this country. The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at the University of Kansas School of Law is part of the community that is under siege. We support, promote, and serve the needs and interests of Black law students and communities, and today as always, we stand in solidarity with every person impacted by the plague of white supremacy and everyone who is working to dismantle anti-Blackness wherever or however it is found.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed fissures in our society; festering wounds that have remained hidden to some for years, but to Black and other marginalized communities, injustice and inequity have been felt throughout every generation. Today, we are struggling to make sense of the myriad of emotions we are experiencing—not only at the recent murder of Mr. George Floyd but also at the thunderous silence of some of our coworkers, colleagues, professors, and even friends.

Others do speak, but not as allies. Some weaponize their voices against the calls for justice. They prioritize the inconvenience of lost property over the tragedy of stolen life. Hear us: Black people across the country are, literally, protesting for their lives.

We hear voices in solidarity too. But the time for memos and statements has long since passed. To our friends, peers, and colleagues who seek to be in allyship with our community, now is the time for action—not mere supportive words. Aspire to be accomplices for justice. To be an accomplice for justice, utilize your voices and relative positions of power and privilege in the following ways:

  • See the bigger picture. While Mr. George Floyd’s murder is top of mind right now, we are also still mourning the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Jamar Clark, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, sadly, the overwhelming list of others who will not — but deserved to — be named, here.
  • Do not reduce this to politics. This movement isn’t about politics; It is about our lives and our humanity.
  • Resist the urge to place qualifiers on Black life. Black lives matter. Full stop.
  • Take immediate action.
  • Accept that it is not enough to be non-racist. Work to be anti-racist.
  • Embrace the discomfort. You may feel uncomfortable discussing race, racism, and other injustices. Lean into the discomfort and push back on problematic words, mindsets, and actions from others, especially friends and family.
  • Remain critical. Consider the ways in which the law, common legal practices, policies, and other systems are prejudiced or inequitable. Use your legal training and influence to change the law.
  • Be critical of the version of history you have been taught. Consider the stories and perspectives that have been excluded; Ponder why they may have been left out and make time to learn more accurate, holistic versions of history.
  • Seek accountability. Do what you can to hold local elected officials and law enforcement accountable for enacting and enforcing more equitable laws and practices.
  • Vote. If you have the privilege to vote, be sure to do so and encourage others to as well.

Silence is acceptance; inaction is complicity. BLSA reaches out today to call to action our allies turned accomplices. We encourage members of the Black community to lean into and experience each emotion; protect your energy at all costs. We ask every single individual and every organization to demand justice by any and all means within your power.

Sincerely,

Cortez S. Downey
President
Black Law Students Association
University of Kansas School of Law

Olivia Black
Vice President
Black Law Students Association
University of Kansas School of Law

Tish Cooper
Treasurer
Black Law Students Association
University of Kansas School of Law

Prof. Lumen Mulligan
Faculty Advisor
Black Law Students Association
University of Kansas School of Law 


On June 8, Dean Stephen Mazza shared this message with KU Law students, faculty and staff:

Dear KU Law Community,
 
I wanted to follow up on Monday’s message to the law school community offering support and solidarity. I have been reflecting on how we can create additional structures that further our mission of inclusion and allow us to best support our students.

Opportunities to discuss and learn about diversity issues have played an important role at our faculty and staff annual retreat for the last eight years. These discussions have been led by faculty, alumni, and University coordinators. We will continue these trainings while offering additional, robust opportunities for our faculty and staff to build their awareness around inclusivity, both in the classroom and beyond. Additionally, all new faculty hires will go through University-sponsored diversity training, aimed at giving faculty greater awareness of implicit bias in the classroom and beyond.

While we have offered optional diversity trainings and presentations through brown bag lunches and guest speakers, starting in the Fall, our orientation programs will include sessions devoted to diversity issues. This includes our 2L/3L Orientation program for upper-class students. While many students over the years have voluntarily participated in events focused on diversity, we feel the best way to instill our community values of equity and equality is to make these events a permanent part of the Jayhawk experience.

We do not take lightly our responsibility to you, our students, and to the communities in which you will eventually practice. There is much work to be done if we are to dismantle racism and white supremacy; but there are none better situated to do that work than lawyers. We must educate you to be not only sharp legal minds, but also compassionate public citizens ready for the responsibility of justice that each of you is obliged to uphold.
 
Stephen Mazza
Dean and Professor of Law


On June 10, the leadership of the Kansas Law Review shared this message (view the statement as a PDF):

In light of the police killings George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others, the members of the Kansas Law Review want to make clear our dedication to anti-racism. The Kansas Law Review unequivocally denounces racism of any form. We stand against state-sponsored violence and police brutality. Black Lives Matter. The lives of KU Law’s Black students, professors, and alumni matter.

The Kansas Law Review recognizes that, as a publisher of legal scholarship, its work can play a role in perpetuating institutional racism by passing along ideas that we have not challenged critically. The Kansas Law Review further recognizes that legal journals and the legal profession have historically nurtured — and benefited from — institutional racism. This is unacceptable. In recognition of our unique positioning to encourage positive legal reform, the Editorial Board of Volume 69 of the Kansas Law Review pledges to actively challenge institutional racism through our scholarship and our interactions in Green Hall, Lawrence, and beyond. We pledge to publish work that meets a high standard of critical engagement, and to critically challenge our own understanding of the law as a tool for oppression and justice.

We recognize that statements from institutions are often little more than platitudes, used to create good PR. We do not intend this message as such. To demonstrate our commitment, the Kansas Law Review will dedicate its Forum posts for the 2020–21 school year to legal issues relating to racial justice, criminal justice reform, and institutional racism. The Kansas Law Review is also donating $500 to the Kansas City Community Bail Fund. The Kansas Law Review will continue our commitment to antiracism by seeking ways to use our position to help dismantle institutional racism and white supremacy. The Kansas Law Review challenges fellow legal journals to critically assess how they can meet their responsibilities to combat racism in the legal profession. 

Sincerely, 

The Volume 69 Editorial Board


On June 12, the leadership of OUTLaws & Allies at KU Law shared this message (view the statement as a PDF):

Statement of Support for BLSA and Black Lives

As the justified protests against the extrajudicial murders of Black and Brown individuals continue, it is time for us to take a stand and become accomplices, not just allies. We, as the Queer community, owe our rights to Black and Brown Queer and Trans individuals. The Stonewall Riots set the stage for a movement that is still continuing. Queer rights have advanced quickly in the last fifty-one years. It is concerning that the rights of our Black and Brown siblings have not advanced in the same way. The Black community in Green Hall is reeling from the pain caused by recent events and the culmination of intergenerational racial violence. We must center them in our conversations and make sure they are protected above all else.

All law students are taught to be zealous advocates from the moment they enter law school as lives of people may be in our hands. There is no reason any law student should be silent right now. We have the ability to create the substantive change to the legal system our predecessors did not. This ability does not materialize when we earn our degree. We must exercise our voice and our skills in this moment to loudly, firmly, and repeatedly say that Black Lives Matter, and have always mattered.

We refuse to sit idly by as Black people continue to be targeted by the State and its police. Black people are regularly victims of extreme and illegal police brutality, usually costing them their lives. The intersection of race, gender, and sexuality is often a violent one. We are acutely aware of the overwhelming amount of Black and Brown Trans people that have been murdered. In a time where there are few words we can say to help the situation, we choose to use action instead to support our community. We fully support the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) in making this world a more equitable place for Black people.

As a community it is imperative for everyone to be using their voices right now; it is not a time to be quiet. We encourage everyone to sign petitions, contact their elected officials, donate, peacefully protest, and educate themselves. Here is a helpful link: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/. This conversation is not just for today, it is a social change that must be continued everyday moving forward.

We, as OUTLaws and Allies, are using our voice to amplify the voices of Black and Brown individuals around us. We fully support any and all action called for by BLSA and we call on the following action items to be implemented:

  1. The University of Kansas School of Law makes a better effort at recruiting Black and Brown law students. In 2019, 78.8% of the law students at the University of Kansas were white, only 4.5% identified as Black. OUTLaws remain willing to assist in these efforts by attending diverse undergraduate events and serving as Ambassadors to KU Law.
  2. The University of Kansas School of Law hosts and makes available Legal Observer Trainings with special emphasis on protests against police brutality and making it a pro bono opportunity for the students that wish to participate. We will request the members of OUTLaws to attend the training, and that our Board will always be trained.

To reiterate, Black Lives Matter. OUTLaws and Allies will continue to create a safe space for all people that live within the margins of our society. We stand in support and will continue to do so with every tool at our disposal.

Signed,

Heddy Pierce, Heidi Wolff-Stanton, and Harrison Baker, 2020-2021 Board of OUTLaws and Allies Delaney Hiegert, Alexis Pearson, Ryan Gordon, and Marisol Garcia 2019-2020 OUTLaws and Allies