UNC says it will take steps to be more inclusive, after Black students complain

The University of North Carolina School of Law is taking steps to be more diverse, after a group of anonymous Black students sent a letter to the school saying it was not a good place for Black students. 

The letter titled “Why UNC Law is Not a Place for Black Students,” was signed by “A Group of Black UNC Law Students” and outlined what it’s like being Black and attending law school and UNC. 

“It is not uncommon to be the only Black student in a class of over 80 people,” the letter states. The students said they have maintained anonymity so as not to hurt employment opportunities. 

After the original letter, the Black Law Students Association sent the law school a packet including a list of five demands: to create a UNC Law Office of Diversity and Inclusion, expanded recruitment efforts for Black professors, the introduction of a mandated "Critical Race Theory" class, to establish of a diversity scholarship for Black students and the installment of a mental health counselor of color for students.

The letter was critical of Dean Martin for stripping the UNC Center for Civil Rights, an institution that was fighting for underserved communities across the state, and for the lack of color in the school administration. 

“Out of the fourteen Deans at UNC Law, only one is a person of color,” the letter states. “The Dean is White. The seven Associate Deans are all White. The Director of Pro Bono, a position that serves a state with a large population of people of color, is also White.”

Erika Wilson is that lone black professor at UNC Law. She told The Daily Tar Heel that it was hard for her to read the letter and it was a wakeup call to her and her collogues.

"I think, from my point of view, the most important thing was that there were students who felt this way," Wilson said. "Some of the very technical points in the letter about things may not have been exactly perfect. But I think the bigger issue is that you have students who feel this way, and this is how they perceive the law school environment." 

The school responded with its own open letter taking responsibility. 

“We agree that we have not done nearly enough to foster a positive, uplifting environment for all of our students,” the school said in an email in June. “That state of affairs is unacceptable, and we will do everything in our power to correct it."

A few days after the email, the law school passed a resolution outlining how the school will begin to diversify faculty. It says the school will commit to performing comprehensive evaluations, hiring more diverse faculty and engage an outside consultant with experience in addressing biases. 

“This resolution only begins our work. The faculty has committed to meeting weekly to identify specific things we will commit to short and long term to improve the climate at UNC School of Law to make it more welcoming, diverse, and inclusive,” the resolution reads. 

Brinkley said ‘unrestricted funds’ will be reallocated to make real progress on issues of diversity and inclusion. In an email to The Daily Tar Heel, Brinkley said the money is not specifically intended to hire new professors but it may be used to fund incentive packages to "lay the groundwork for greater faculty diversity." 

"We will need to identify more substantial and recurring funding for that purpose, and I am hopeful that we will be able to do that," Brinkley said in the email. "A good deal will depend on the state budget going forward and on our ability to tap additional dependable revenue sources." 

One of the students who assisted in writing the original letter told The Daily Tar Heel that it’s encouraging that the law school has acted so quickly and acknowledges the concerns of its students and law school graduates. 

"I think that with so many voices to make sure that happens, I'm actually more optimistic about the state of the law school than the state of the country right now; I'm optimistic that that is going to keep the pressure on," the graduate who asked to not be named said.

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