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Black law students demand classroom diversity monitors to report ‘questionable conduct’

The Black Law Students Association at the University of San Diego School of Law is calling for campus administrators to train and post diversity officers in classrooms to observe and report bias and other “disparaging” actions against students of color.

According to an open letter from the USD Black Law Students Association, these diversity officers would be charged with watching classrooms and reporting incidents or conduct they consider questionable or discriminatory.

“As Black law students we are privileged with the opportunity to pursue a legal education and seek membership to the legal profession, however, we are not immune to the oppression that is inextricably linked to our Blackness,” the group states in their six-page letter to USD law faculty and students.

In addition to monitoring duties, the diversity officers would meet annually with professors and deans to go over how they could better promote diversity in the school’s instruction, the letter states.

In the letter, BLSA claims many students of color at USD’s law school are subjected to racist behavior and comments in the classroom and feel “uncomfortable ‘calling out’ the student or professor for fear of retaliation or because they second guess whether the experience qualifies as a microaggression.”

The addition of diversity monitors to classrooms would balance academic freedom with “the need to promote an inclusive learning environment.”

BLSA states that in the legal community, it’s more necessary that students of color hold their peers and professors to a “higher standard of scholarly rigor by interrogating prejudices and exposing it for what it truly is — intellectual laziness that has no place in an academic setting of merit.”

The demand for classroom diversity monitors is one of the nine “calls to action” BLSA published in their open letter.

The USD Black Law Students Association did not respond to The College Fix’s multiple requests for comment. USD Law’s Interim Dean Margaret Dalton also did not respond to The College Fix’s requests for comment this week.

Elena Gomez, associate director of media relations for the University of San Diego, provided The College Fix with an emailed statement Wednesday that did not address the demands or answer whether campus leaders are considering them.

“Universities should provide an environment where complex and sensitive issues can be thoughtfully discussed and considered, enabling ongoing dialogue and discovery,” Gomez said. “At USD, we strive to foster an inclusive community that benefits the learning and success of all students and advances educational equity.”

As for the BLSA’s other “calls to action,” the first six are directly aimed at USD law faculty and administration, and the last three are directed toward USD law students.

To USD law faculty and administration:

1. Enact a diversity and inclusion training/course graduation requirement

2. Provide more transparency between faculty and students by maintaining up-to-date biographical information, including research and publications, on USD Law’s official faculty website.

3. Institute and maintain a policy that equally distributes 1st year students of color across sections

4. Create more scholarships and resources that specifically address the socioeconomic challenges that black students and students of color face in obtaining a law degree.

5. Develop a classroom diversity officer position tasked with observing classroom practices
and reporting questionable conduct within the classroom to the administration.

6. Hire more Black professors and professors or color.

To USD law students:

1. Attend BLSA events and partner with BLSA for meaningful events.

2. Engage with classmates of different backgrounds.

3. Speak up in and out of the classroom and seek opportunities to engage in uncomfortable conversations about race.

Regarding the call for USD law students to be required to take a diversity and inclusion course before they can graduate, the association argued “It is crucial to develop tolerance and understanding amongst young legal professionals, particularly in conservative cities like San Diego.”

BLSA also demands USD to maintain up-to-date profiles on all its law professors, especially in regard to their research and publications, since some USD students try to avoid taking a class from a professor whose work they disagree with or find offensive.

“Many students recall learning about a professor’s work that was not listed in their online biographical information,” the letter states. “In many cases the published works are problematic and/or disparaging to certain communities and the student would not have taken a course with that professor if they were aware of this work.”

BLSA also proposed that USD’s law faculty implement a policy that would “equally distribute students of color across first year sections and avoid creating an even more isolating experience for Black students on campus.”

And stating that first-year USD law students are “limited to competing for only a few merit-based scholarships,” they call on the law school to offer more scholarships and financial aid to first year law students in order to “address the socioeconomic gap that many students of color face” and “attract and retain more students of color.”

In their letter, they also urge USD law faculty to hire more professors of color and create “a campus environment that is welcoming to Black professors and professors of color.”

BLSA’s final three demands center on the call for USD law students to attend and engage in the group’s events, and try to understand students of color through personal interaction instead of making assumptions about them, and talk about and address racial issues.

“We urge our allies to match their words with action and carry out the initiatives set forth here. Without immediate action, Black people will continue to be murdered with impunity. Neutrality is no longer an option when it comes to preserving and protecting Black lives. To those who choose to be neutral during this time of injustice: you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” the letter states.

MORE: Loyola University Chicago explores blacks-only freshman housing plan

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About the Author
Sarah Imgrund -- Liberty University