Black law students launch petition for ‘institutional change’ at law school

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The petition calls for officials to update parts of the curriculum by increasing the number of courses offered on the role that race plays in the law.

The Black Law Students Association launched a petition Tuesday calling for “institutional change” related to diversity, equality and inclusion at GW Law.

The petition includes demands to make changes to the curriculum, increase diversity in academic journals, law clinics, faculty and students and make Juneteenth a holiday on the school’s academic calendar. The petition, which is encouraging all law students at GW to sign in favor of “immediate” change, has garnered more than 800 signatures as of Monday.

The petition calls for officials to update parts of the curriculum by increasing the number of courses offered on the role that race plays in the law. It also requests that officials create a percentage of slots reserved for Black students in a class taught by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which is typically filled by lottery.

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

The BLSA is also calling for increased diversity in the various clinics the law school offers and the addition of a racial injustice clinic that has a required co-requisite class on race and the law for students to “represent, advocate and protect” those who are victims of civil rights violations, according to the petition.

“GW Law has a duty to its students to provide clinical instruction, in order to prevent individuals from recognizing and understanding racial inequities only in the context of criminal law,” the petition states.

The petition also includes demands to increase Black student membership on academic journals and skills boards.

“Discriminatory practices are evident and illustrated by GW Law’s history,” the petition states. “The law school was founded in 1865, but it was not until 2019 that the GW Law Review and the GW Federal Communications Law Journal had its first Black editor-in-chiefs.”

The students are requesting that administrators hire an associate dean of diversity and inclusion and mandate racial bias training for all law students and faculty, according to the petition.

The petition also calls for officials to increase the percentage of Black faculty members from 10 to 15 percent and the diversity of the student body through the recruitment of Black students and other students of color.

“Creating a space for Black and minority students to feel comfortable starts by having more than just one or two of us in every classroom,” the petition states.

Morgan Bodenarain, the president of BLSA, said the organization has been in contact with law school administrators and are looking to present the list of demands from the petition at the next faculty meeting. She said GW community members have also been supportive of the petition and are interested to learn how they can help achieve the petition’s goals.

“We encourage all students to read the list of demands, sign and share a comment on the petition as well,” she said in an email. “Signing the petition is the easy part, however – being able to share an experience that reflects the need for this plan to be implemented is invaluable.”

A law school spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

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