Editor’s Note: This op-ed’s content and author list have been updated at the request of the authors since it’s original publication online.
As law students of color, we learned early that social justice often comes down to undoing the wrongs the legal system visits upon our communities.
Slavery and Japanese internment were legal. So is the Muslim ban today. As future lawyers of color, we must contend with joining a system that has traditionally disenfranchised and oppressed the communities we come from.
Unfortunately, racism, bigotry, and the forces of white supremacy are not merely external. These forces are pervasive within the Stanford Law community we call home. Last week, we learned that racist hate mail was left in a classmate’s mailbox. We wish this was surprising, but the reality is that as law students of color, we deal with racism– through both overt acts and micro-aggressions, every day.
SLS makes it easy to avoid talking about race. Orientation involves no discussion of systemic disparities in the law. Our curriculum doesn’t mandate studying race, class, or gender. Even our pro-bono cultural competency training doesn’t adequately prepare students to interact with low-income communities of color. It’s stunning that you can graduate with a Stanford Law degree and completely avoid discussions of race and structural inequalities in your three years here. In this global climate, it’s a disservice on SLS’s part to its own students, the legal profession, and the world to produce lawyers and future leaders who are not fluent in these issues.
Law students of color defend themselves from the racism and bigotry on this campus alone. The silence from our classmates often feels deafening. When white supremacists put recruitment posters around campus during an affinity event, when our peers stayed conspicuously silent while we spoke out against a known Islamophobe’s visit, and, just last week, when a classmate discovered hate mail in their mailbox, we were left to battle these forces alone. The law school’s response is often reactive, not systemic. When racist incidents occur, we receive emails from administrators telling us that racism and bigotry don’t represent the SLS community when, in fact, it’s our own classmates and faculty who play a role in perpetuating these instances. Responses from the broader community are often limited–a teach-in, meeting with administrators–single events for which students of color take on disproportionately heavy burdens of expending both emotional energy and literal effort to beg our peers to acknowledge our humanity. The time we spend planning programming, attending meetings, and putting out statements is time our white classmates are spending studying and applying to clerkships. In the end, we lose.
Our attempts to share these experiences with our classmates are often met with disbelief. Our peers question their veracity with sentiments like “They probably didn’t mean it that way,” “But no one here is racist,” or “I can’t imagine anyone here would say that.” With every assurance that racism is not a part of SLS, our experiences are disregarded and, ultimately, erased.
We wanted to show our community that racism lives here too. We wanted to show that for us, racism isn’t just overt acts– it’s death by a thousand proverbial paper-cuts. We endure our classmates complimenting our excellent English, or opining on the relative benefits of slavery. We hear our teachers question the legal protections without which we, and those who look like us, would not be walking these halls. We stay silent when professors repeatedly mispronounce our names. We ignore when our classmates call us by the name of another minority student, with whom we share no physical similarity but our race. We wanted, for once, to be heard.
So if you walk the law school’s halls, you’ll see posters bearing the words of our classmates and professors. You’ll see a banner reminding everyone who passes that “Racism Lives Here, Too.” You may recognize the quiet suffering and deep hurt of those who bared their souls onto paper. We hope you’ll see these messages as an opportunity to reflect internally and reach out to those in your life who confront these issues daily. We hope– earnestly– that this is the beginning, not the end, of a much bigger conversation and change. However, this requires us all to first acknowledge that hate and bigotry are not external to SLS. Racism lives here, too.
Meghan Koushik, JD ‘19; Biola Macaulay, ‘16 & JD ‘19; Priscilla Hernandez, JD ‘20; Elizabeth Reetz, JD ‘20; Olamide Abiose, JD ‘20; Serena Saffarini, JD ‘20; & Rachel Waterman, JD ‘20 & Jasmine Miller, JD ’19, M. Ed. ‘19