Donations helping University of Cincinnati & Southern University expand racial justice focus

In the wake of widespread unrest, law schools are beginning to receive donations to expand their focus on racial justice issues. Both University of Cincinnati and Southern University recently announced donations. 

The University of Cincinnati received $200,000 from an alumnus to support a law center focused on race, gender and social justice.

Bill Morelli donated money for the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the College of Law. Renamed in 2019 after Judge Nathaniel Jones in honor of his career as a champion for justice, the Jones Center trains and cultivates scholars, leaders and activists committed to social change.  

Morelli said the timing of his gift was intentional.

“At a time when national discussion — often divisive — is taking place on issues of race, gender and justice, it’s important for the legal profession to take the lead in framing issues and developing solutions,” he said. “The Jones Center is at the center of thought leadership in this area and I hope this gift can bring together scholars and practitioners in the field to inspire the next generation of lawyers to shape public policy and help build bridges of understanding in the broader community.”

The new fund will establish a practitioner-in-residence program, allowing the College of Law to host a social justice advocate or innovator to teach courses on race, gender and social justice. It will also allow the college to host conferences at which scholars in law and other fields such as philosophy, sociology, political science, or public health, come together to address, and explore solutions for, issues of race, gender and social justice. The practitioner-in-residence program and conference will occur on alternate years. The first practitioner-in-residence is tentatively scheduled for 2021.

“The practitioner/conference focus allows the Center to take its work to the next level by expanding opportunities for students to work directly with nationally known advocates on cutting edge strategies to make change,” said Dean Verna Williams said. 

The Southern University Law Center received a $10,000 donation to host a symposium on public protests and add a similar course to its curriculum.

“The Law Center is privileged to be chosen to accept this donation,” said John Pierre, chancellor of the Southern University Law Center. “It is our duty to equip our future lawyer leaders and community members with the necessary tools to make an impact within society.”

The donation is from the law firm of Rodney and Etter.

“We appreciate this honor to advance legal education at the Southern University Law Center through this Cy Pres donation,” said Roy Rodney, Jr., managing director of the Rodney and Etter Law Firm. “It is our hope that these efforts can result in more civic participation, greater exercise of constitutional rights, and more peaceful and less violent protests.”

Rodney and Etter represented over 100 protesters who were arrested during the Alton Sterling protests in 2016. The Cy Pres donation, which is in the amount of $5,120, was a result of the DeRay McKesson v. City of Baton Rouge class action suit that arose. As a result, the protesters were exonerated and awarded damages from the U.S. Federal Court in Baton Rouge. Once settlement funds were disbursed among the class members, the remaining funds were approved to be awarded to the Law Center to support public interest work. Furthermore, Rodney and Etter decided to match the funds to offer a total donation of $10,120.

Pierre said it is necessary and timely to host a symposium on public protests. With marches and gatherings becoming a frequent occurrence, it is the best time to ensure that community understands the laws in relation to the first amendment and these assemblies.

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