Students at Northwestern, GWU call for more Black faculty, other changes

Activists across the nation have been demanding change, emboldened by the recent racial unrest that started with the death of George Floyd on May 25. Law students are at the forefront of that movement, with students at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and The George Washington University Law School recently placing demands on their schools.  

“My silence was contributing to the racist environment, it no longer sat right for me to not speak up,” McKayla Stokes, a recent graduate from Northwestern told the Chicago Sun Times.

Stokes is part of a group of students and alumni at Northwestern who are actively pushing for more Black faculty members to be hired. It’s an effort that started more than a year ago when students wanted answers as to why three black faculty members left the law school and only two professors of color remained. 

Students told the Chicago Sun Times they thought progress was being made since they were meeting with Dean Kim Yuracko regularly and a plan was in place to correct it. But, then COVID-19 hit and the meeting and plan were scrapped. Shortly after that, the school announced that Yuracko would step down as dean on July 31. 

“We are having the same conversation, and we haven’t moved the needle on anything,” Cyerra McGowan, a law student and former president of the Black Law Student Association said.

Luke Fernbach, another member of the ‘concerned student’ group, said it is hard for students to be public about their concerns for fear of retaliation, especially against Black students. 

“We all know that the law historically has been used as a tool to subjugate and oppress Black people in this country from the country’s founding,” Fernbach said. “As a law school, if we are not actively working to dismantle that racist system, then we are just contributing to it if we aren’t challenging it and trying to disrupt it.”

Meanwhile, law students at George Washington University launched a petition on change.org for institutional change at their law school. The petition encourages students and alumni to sign the petition, but it goes one step further and asks them to comment too.

“A signature is easy,” the petition reads. “However, commenting a personal experience or sharing the ways in which you personally have benefited from the institutional oppression that exists at this PWI and many others is the hard part.” 

The petition signed by 18 students, outlines demands that they want immediately. Altogether there are 16 demands outlined including things like mandating June 19th as Juneteenth on GW Law’s academic calendar, increase diversity within the law school’s admissions process, hire more Black faculty, implement mandatory racial basis training, and add a racial injustice clinic.

“As Black law students, at a predominately white institution, our legal, educational and professional experience is discriminately flawed,” the petition reads.

This is not the first-time students have demanded change since the death of George Floyd. Last week, UNC said it would take steps to be more inclusive, after black students complained.  Even before that students nationwide have gone public with their efforts to get educational institutions to address racism. 

At the University of Michigan Law School, students used #MLawLoud to amplify the experiences of Black students. 

In June, an Instagram account named “Black at Harvard Law” shared anonymous stories from Black students.

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