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Willamette University College of Law Faculty adopts Statement on Racism, Hate, and Violence

by Willamette University College of Law,

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On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, the Willamette University College of Law faculty voted to adopt a Statement on Racism, Hate, and Violence. The statement takes note of the College of Law’s unique historic obligations to the state and region. “As the first law school in the Pacific Northwest,” the faculty wrote, “it is our responsibility to advocate for the eradication of racism past and present, and our obligation to take action and do the work to achieve that end.”

Dean Brian Gallini foresees significant institutional change in the near future. “Our faculty not only put into words what they see as our challenge as a community of scholars and teachers but also made a commitment to do the hard work that must be done,” said Dean Brian Gallini. “The faculty wanted to send a strong signal to the community, and nation more broadly, that changes to curriculum, student admissions, and faculty recruitment are among the first steps, but not the only steps, that we can take right away.”

Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Professor of Law David Friedman, who participated in drafting the statement, looks forward to turning this statement into an action plan. “This generation of new lawyers will be counted upon to lead the way toward a more just world. My colleagues are ready to launch creative means for getting our curriculum and community aligned around the goal to eradicate racism, hate and violence.” Friedman added, “The statement is a solid starting point, but we are only at the very beginning. It’s more important that we collaboratively get to work developing specific plans, and that critically involves both listening and learning on our part.”

Gallini took note of what the institution learned from participating in the Racial Justice Task Force last summer, where students and faculty collaborated to address a discrete problem, Oregon’s approach to bias in the jury selection process. “We learned a lot about ourselves from that experience, including that we are capable of doing so much more. We are capable of making significant contributions when we engage in listening and commit to doing the work.”

Willamette University College of Law Faculty Statement on Racism, Hate, and Violence

Over the past year, our nation, state, city, and College of Law have reckoned with ongoing racism, hate, and violence. The nature of the tragedies we confront are so large, broad, and complex that they defy an inclusive description. As we set out to draft this statement, events overtook us so quickly that we concluded this statement could not be about any single moment. The commonalities here are a generality-- racism, hate, and violence are accelerated by personal and institutionalized bias and the deep-seated nature of these dynamics.

The violent attacks over the past year, and in recent weeks, on members of Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Latinx communities, in particular, exhort us to urgently accelerate the fight against racism. Our own students have experienced and witnessed such attacks. Racism is deadly. And, for many, the threat of violence rooted in racism, hate, and bias looms large over daily life, as it has for centuries.

Our community has been engaging in increasingly intensive conversations about racism. Our conversations must embrace a wholesale reexamination of our justice system. From the beginning of slavery, through the terror of Jim Crow and the violence that Black Americans experience today at the hands of the state, the law has played a unique role in sanctioning the systems that enable it.

Oregon itself has a profound history of racism, hate, and violence dating back to territorial days. From the very beginning of White settlement, and the grave injuries continuously visited on the Indigenous peoples who had lived here long before that incursion, Oregon’s legal establishment has played a deep role in establishing, inflicting, endorsing, and perpetuating the institutionalized racism that shapes our current environment. In the face of this history, we, the faculty of the Willamette University College of Law, the first law school in the Pacific Northwest, recognize our culpability in these injuries, our responsibility to advocate for the eradication of racism past and present, and our obligation to take action and do the work to achieve that end.

The faculty fully endorses a reevaluation of the College of Law’s approach to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We will assess our approaches to admissions, student support, curriculum, and the classroom environment. This is not a short-term endeavor, it must and shall be an enduring and urgent commitment to constantly learn and improve. As a faculty, we confront these problems with humility. As thought leaders, we always must have a free-flowing exchange of ideas in order for us to do our best work to train advocates and lawyer-citizens. We do not have all of the answers.

We do, however, have some places to start. We agree that we can begin to fulfill these commitments by working together to support the efforts of our students and student organizations to combat racism, prejudice, hatred, and its manifold impacts-- and by encouraging our Willamette community members to listen and learn from one another. We will normalize the discussion of bias and implicit bias in our curriculum. As leaders in legal education, we agree that we must do everything we can to make our community and our world a more inclusive place. We also commit to working to support our neighbors in our Salem community.

While we were drafting this statement, we debated and reflected. We struggled to balance the particular harms, and the specific and human consequences of discrimination, with universal and broad definitions. We struggled with being too inclusive and too exclusive. We acknowledged that there are other histories, power structures, and forms of violence that require a similar examination. We realized that while our words might fall short, our resolve need not. Our resolve can endure. Our definitions and actions can change. We intend to realize a more just, a more equal, and more inclusive future.

We share a responsibility to educate the future lawyers and leaders of our state and nation. The challenge is broad, it will require hard work, and it will take generations of hard work to make enduring progress. We ask you to join us in sharing this solemn commitment.

Adopted by the faculty of the Willamette University College of Law

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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