SBA set to hear resolution on campus diversity issues

The nationwide debate on diversity arrived on Georgetown Law’s campus during the Student Bar Association’s meeting on the evening of December 1st, 2015.  1L SBA delegates Amber Smith and Mike Mazzella, both representing Section 3, proposed a resolution aimed to address diversity issues on campus.  According to Smith and Mazzella’s comments, a new version of the resolution is set to be introduced or at least discussed at the first SBA meeting of this semester, on January 26th.

The resolution is part of a nationwide debate that has occurred throughout 2015, including high-profile protests at the University of Missouri, leading to the resignation of its president.  Other protests have occurred at Yale University, while Howard University worked with police to investigate an anonymous threat against its students posted online. Georgetown University itself has been no stranger to the recent debate, where students successfully campaigning to rename Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall, on the main campus, to Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, respectively.  The buildings were originally named for individuals who had sold slaves in the 18th Century.   This recent diversity discussion was raised in a campus-wide email sent by Law Center Dean Bill Treanor.  The notice made students aware of racially hateful messages on anonymous social media app Yik Yak which were posted from the Georgetown Law campus.

Mazzella and Smith’s resolution, formally titled A Resolution to Ensure Adequate Representation of All Discrete and Insular Minorities, was the subject of an open forum discussion on the December SBA meeting. As of the most recent available draft, the resolution includes recommendations that the Law Center adopt a diversity course requirement for all students, diversity training during orientation, and the hiring of a more diverse faculty.

Smith felt that recent events signaled that the time was now to take action.  “In light of campus protests nationwide the time is ripe to address such issues, and it would be a shame for GULC to find itself on the wrong side of history by failing to do so.”

“First and foremost, we must be mindful of the power dynamics at stake when the concerns of discrete and insular minorities are taken into account. The issues we are hoping to address are not only relative to individuals, but structual in nature, and thus require structural
solution.”

Mazzella and Smith noted their commitment to drafting a complete and all-inclusive resolution.  They  reached out to student organizations and the administration as well as the student population generally, and distributed a draft version of the resolution to students via Facebook and email, including a form that students could fill out with feedback.

Smith, who became an SBA delegate in this semester’s elections, reflected that “As first
semester 1Ls it was important to consider a number of perspectives at every level of our institution and all of their suggestions were considered in drafting the resolution; although necessarily, student perspectives were privileged.”

A key part of the desire to gather feedback was through involvement from the larger student body.  A number of non-Delegates attended the Tuesday meeting to voice their opinions on a number of issues.  Most extensively discussed was the proposal to require that students take at least one class that fulfilled diversity and social justice education requirements to get their Georgetown JD.  Diversity education graduation requirements are somewhat common at the undergraduate level – the main campus passed a similar requirement last fall http://www.thehoya.com/mcef-votes-in-favor-of-diversity-requirement/ – but it would be unprecedented among law schools.   Other students pushed back on the idea,  stating concerns that many students already feel like they do not have enough time to take the legal education classes they want during their short, often structured time at law school.

The graduation requirement and the recommendation for a more diverse faculty have also garnered some criticism.  But according to Mazzella, most of the criticism has been about how these ideas should be implemented procedurally, rather than an objection to the concept as a whole.

Mazzella said he was not surprised by the warm reception and constructive criticism that the resolution has received.  “I’ve come to expect that the community here at the GULC is very willing to speak out for what they believe in and I absolutely love that about this school.”  Smith said she was surprised at the amount of student involvement

On where the resolution is headed, Mazzella said “Our next step is to re-draft the resolution to reflect the suggestions made at the meeting [Tuesday]. Next, we will recirculate the newly revised Resolution to the student body, student organizations, and the faculty in hopes of fine-tuning it even further and to gain more cosponsors. We really want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this conversation given how important it is to our shared educational experience and the legal field in general.”

Smith also noted that the training and education advocated for in the resolution are important skills that will be useful to any future attorney.  “[W]hile our reasons for attending law school and entering the legal profession may be vastly different, the interpersonal and social skills to be gained by the goals illustrated in this resolution will prove to be invaluable no matter which form of law we choose to practice or whichever field we venture into.”

A revised version of the resolution is set to be presented for a vote at the first SBA meeting of the spring semester, scheduled for January 26th.  All SBA meetings are open to the student body.  Students may not vote but they may comment on any issue during open forum debate.  Meetings take place on Tuesday evenings, every two weeks, at 9 pm in Hotung H2000.

Note from the Editor:  If you would like to submit a letter or column for the Georgeotwn Law Weekly’s Opinion section on this or any other issue, please e-mail David Nayer, editor in chief, at dan31@georgetown.edu

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