Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

UNC Responds To Letter From Black Law Students

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC School of Law Responds to Letter From Group of Black Students:

North Carolina Logo (2020)Early in the month of June, the UNC School of Law received a letter titled Why UNC Law is Not a Place for Black Students. The letter, signed by "A Group of Black UNC Law Students," condemned the school's lack of support and its culture of antipathy towards Black students, as well as Dean Martin Brinkley for a failure to retain and promote Black students and faculty, among other concerns.

The letter cites numerous events that have made Black students feel unwelcome at the school, including the UNC System Board of Governors stripping the Center for Civil Rights of its ability to litigate in 2017, administrative efforts to prevent the formation of a Civil Rights Review at UNC and the overall lack of Black faculty and administration in the law school.

"I think, from my point of view, the most important thing was that there were students who felt this way," said UNC law professor Erika Wilson. "Some of the very technical points in the letter about things may not have been exactly perfect. But I think the bigger issue is that you have students who feel this way, and this is how they perceive the law school environment." 

Wilson was referenced in the letter as the school's lone Black female professor, and upon whose shoulders Brinkley "allows the burden of handling all things Black at UNC Law to rest on." 

She said that, while uncomfortable for her to read, the letter was a wakeup call to herself and the school about the feelings of Black law students.

After the original letter was sent from a group of anonymous students, the Black Law Students Association sent the law school a packet including a list of five demands, which called for the creation of a UNC Law Office of Diversity and Inclusion, expanded recruitment efforts for Black professors, the introduction of a mandated "Critical Race Theory" class, establishment of a diversity scholarship for Black students and installment of a mental health counselor of color for students.

In response, the law school first sent an email on June 12 to its students, faculty and staff acknowledging the letter.

"The issues our students, whom we cherish and whose callings to our profession we seek to foster, have raised are both urgent and eminently fair," the letter read. "Carolina Law has had conversations and done work around these issues in the past but not often enough, loudly enough, or with a great enough sense of urgency. We agree that we have not done nearly enough to foster a positive, uplifting environment for all of our students. That state of affairs is unacceptable, and we will do everything in our power to correct it."

The message was followed four days later with another email announcing that the law school had passed a resolution on faculty diversity, and that Brinkley was committing $1 million of a recent unrestricted gift to implement changes. ...

One Black graduate of UNC Law, who took part in drafting the letter and wished to remain anonymous out of fear of professional repercussion, said they were encouraged by the law school's response so far.

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