Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law
71 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021 Last revised: 29 Jun 2021
Date Written: March 5, 2021
The killing of George Floyd forced the nation to recognize painful realities about systemic racism in our country and our legal system. The deficiencies in our founding documents and the vestiges of our slaveholding past are so woven into our national culture that they became hard to see except for those who suffer their daily indignities, hardships, and fears. The collective experience of watching Floyd’s murder made these undeniably and viscerally visible to all Americans. As legal educators, we must face the role we have played in helping build the machinery of structural racism by supplying generation after generation of those who maintain that machinery and prosper within it. In this critical moment of our country’s history, we, as legal educators, must train and prepare a generation of lawyers to complete once and for all the work of the Civil Rights Movement, a Third Reconstruction and to purge racism from our legal system – to build better safeguards to ensure that all people have the equal protection of the laws promised by the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.
As educators, we have a unique opportunity and important responsibility to combat racism in our educational mission. We must do more than transfer legal knowledge and skills to our students. We must cultivate within them a principled, enduring commitment to work for true equality over the course of their careers and to practice law in a way that promotes the equal treatment of all. To do this, we must reconsider not only what we teach, but how we teach it.
This article sets out one possibility. It describes the Race and Equal Protection of the Laws program at Penn State Dickinson Law.1F It describes a teaching method I developed for the task of teaching students about the relationship between race and our legal system. It describes how over 50 students, faculty and alumni worked together to create the substantive content of the course. This innovative program draws upon the principles of Critical Pedagogy to develop an educational approach with the objective of transforming how our students see their place and role in our flawed, evolving democracy. It incorporates the literature of different scholars commonly referred to as Critical Race Theorists to help students recognize the indicia of structural racism and better understand its root causes.
The structure and methods used in the program guide students towards a deepened consciousness of the relationship between race and our legal system and why, despite its mostly neutral language, it still facilitates and maintains a system that results in Americans of different colors have different lived experiences. It encourages students to identify problems that can be addressed by lawyers and explores with them sources of law and justice that can be brought to bear on the problem. Finally, it shares with students the “Story and Vision” of lawyers who can speak authoritatively and authentically about the areas of law we examine and invites students to develop their own carefully considered response as lawyers.
During this yearlong course, students have examined the relationship between race and our legal system in the following areas: housing, health care, criminal justice, democracy, capitalism, and education. Future iterations of the course will broaden this coverage and examine other types of inequality in our legal system.
Keywords: Antiracist, Critical Pedagogy, Equal Protection of the Laws, Race
JEL Classification: K49, K40, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation