UCI Race Curriculum Requirement, Diversity Scholarship
By Dianne Anderson
As far as definitions go, at various points in history slavery was considered legal, as was Jim Crow “colored only” access, voting restrictions, lynchings targeting Blacks, and segregated schools and jobs.
Students at the University of California, Irvine School of Law will soon be mulling over such erudite questions around societal law, such as what is the law, and how the lack of ethics in the past relate to how the law is implemented in the future.
Sameer Ashar, Clinical Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Equity Initiatives, said that some universities, administrators and faculty at different schools are taking equity issues seriously lately. They are making it central to their governance agenda.
“That’s certainly been the case at UCI Law,” he said, adding they are excited about the last academic year and the new Race and Indigeneity curriculum graduation requirement.
All students at UC Irvine School of Law must now take at least one course focused on race and indigeneity, structural inequity, and the historical bases for such inequity. UCI is just one of three law schools in the country that have imposed such a requirement in the last academic year.
Ashar said that Black Lives Matter starting in 2014, and the killing of George Floyd sparked activism on campuses among student groups, including students at UCI campus that strongly mobilized in support of the requirement.
But he is concerned about the movement to erase history. He said each new generation needs to recognize the historical basis for structural inequities, which is significantly based on race and enslavement.
“I think it’s a fight against the forces that would have us erase parts of our history and have us accept things as they are, and accept social and economic inequality without really probing at the roots of those structural inequities,” he said.
Now with the Republican Party targeting the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project put forth by Nikole Hannah-Jones, and drumming up controversy against teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, Ashar said that increasing awareness of ethical excellence in the field of law is urgent.
The main message they want to get across to their law students is that leadership in the legal profession requires a greater understanding of how the law has been used to oppress some people and elevate others.
As students ponder legal ways to repair past and ongoing injustice, one question that might come up is what exactly is the law in the courtroom where prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys often fist bump with the judges.
“How do we make sense of that? Why are the laws on the books that appear to be race-neutral applied in a way that disproportionately affects people of color,” he said.
For all the tall walls, there is recent excitement around the Newmeyer Dillion Diversity Scholarship $100,000 endowed scholarship.
“UCI Law is an important pillar in the legal community and has long been a trusted partner of our firm. Law schools play a critical role in shaping the future of diversity in the legal industry and we are proud to partner with UCI Law to create more opportunities for diverse candidates,” said Greg Dillion, a Founding Partner of Newmeyer Dillion. “As our firm continues to take a holistic look at our efforts to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment, the Newmeyer Dillion Diversity Scholarship is an important step to do so within our own offices and within the legal profession as a whole.”
Ashar said the scholarship represents another tool to recruit students of color that are looking to work in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion.
He said there’s tough competition for students interested in these issues among law schools, and every scholarship matters.
“We think these scholarships get students that are going to help us change legal education, not just be like passive recipients of knowledge but work to change the way things are taught,” he said.
For more on the UCI Diversity Scholarship, see Newmeyer Dillion Diversity Scholarship