United in diversity

Camille Grant ’18 & Charles West ’18
SBA Diversity Co-Chairs

The theme we chose for Diversity Week 2017 was “United in Diversity.” This past year has seen a lot of divisiveness and societal tension; so we sought to provide programming that underscored the law school’s inclusivity throughout the week. We also invited students to sign the Diversity Pledge, which included a charge to take steps in making the University community a welcoming
place for all.

SBA Diversity Co-Chairs Charles West (left) and Camille Grant (right). Photos courtesy of Charles West.

SBA Diversity Co-Chairs Charles West (left) and Camille Grant (right). Photos courtesy of Charles West.

The beginning of Diversity Week coincided with President’s Day, so it was fitting that we host a panel on “The Legacy of Thomas Jefferson.” The panel was moderated by Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui and included Professors Noelle Hurd, Claudrena Harold, Kirt von Daacke, and Christa Diershiede. Each of the panelists brought a particular and potent view on how the University should honor Thomas Jefferson’s contributions while also confronting his problematic history as a slaveholder. The clear theme of the evening: in seeking to uncover the complete history of Jefferson and the University, we should also seek to uncover the untold stories of the slaves and early trailblazers of our community of learning. There are many examples of fine citizen leaders who have ties to this University, and honoring them as we honor Jefferson could be the start of coming to terms with our complicated history.

On Tuesday, we hosted a “Diversity in the Legal Profession” panel with representatives from the public and private sector. The panel included Jamar Walker (UVa Law Alum), Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Reba Medoza (UVa Law Alum), Williams Mullen and H. Bola George, Paul, Weiss. The panelists discussed ways in which law students could market themselves as diverse candidates and ways in which the legal profession is benefiting from diverse perspectives. 

For the second year in a row, we hosted “Unpacking Privilege; an Experience-Based Dialogue on Diversity.” We had eight of our law school colleagues speak about their respective privileged perspectives that they bring to the law school community. The topics ranged from being of mixed heritage/race; being a black woman experiencing microaggressions among her law school peers; how disabilities are not always visual; the complexities of mental illness; and the experience of a Muslim refugee living in America. After the student speakers, we launched into discussion groups where the participants unpacked their own privilege and shared action-oriented steps to use that privilege to empower others and to create a more inclusive environment at the law school. 

We closed out Diversity Week with our first annual Diversity Festival in Spies Garden on Thursday. Over eleven student groups showcased their groups’ culture and/or identities. We also had great representation from the LLM students who showcased their Iranian, Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures. The visual display of the various cultures at the University in one setting was truly a special experience for the attendees as well as the student groups who participated in the event.  

While Diversity Week is only one week, we hope that the messages from our events continue throughout the year and beyond… Empowering, Educating, Respecting & Celebrating the DIVERSE & INCLUSIVE Lawyers of the Future.