Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Yale Critical Race Theory School?

In an email today to members of the Yale law school community, Yale law school dean Heather Gerken has committed to take “swift and significant action” to “confront, challenge, and combat racism and to serve the cause of racial justice.” Specifically, she has set forth a very long “list of ongoing action items that we will move forward during the upcoming year.”

One current student tells me that the “wide range of courses and clinics that explore questions of racial justice and equality” (Gerken’s phrase) stands in sharp contrast to the single course in Federal Courts on offer last year and this coming year. More broadly, Yale has long been notorious for teaching very few courses in traditional legal subjects or, as a young Samuel Alito experienced, for teaching courses in traditional legal subjects in a “most bizarre” way.

Here, verbatim, is Dean Gerken’s list of action items:

Clinics, Classes, Programs, and Centers
Create a policy-focused policing clinic.
Work to create a litigation-focused policing clinic in the spring.
Create a policing seminar.
Create an Environmental Justice Program in partnership with the Yale School of the Environment.
Create a Center for Health and Justice in partnership with Yale School of Medicine focused on incarceration and health equity.
Offer a course in Critical Race Theory every year.
Offer a wide range of courses and clinics that explore questions of racial justice and equality, including:

Incarceration, Isolation, and Criminal Justice Reform
Law and Inequality
On the Inside: Narratives from Prison
Imprisoned: From Conception and Construction to Abolition
Race, Inequality, and the Law
Constitutional and Civil Rights Impact Litigation
Environmental Justice/Climate Justice
Advanced Educational Opportunity and Juvenile Justice Clinic
Access to Law School
The Police: Reform, Transform, Defund, Abolish?
Critical Race Theory
Saginaw-Chippewa Disenrollment Clinic
Legitimacy: Theoretical Models in Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice Clinic and Seminar
Challenging Mass Incarceration Clinic and Seminar
The Constitution Goes to School
Law and Inequality Workshop

Criminal Justice and Racial Justice Work
Provide permanent financial support for criminal justice work done by students and alumni.
Continue to support and amplify the criminal justice and racial justice work being done by our faculty and our centers, including the Justice Collaboratory, the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law, the Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy, the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights, and the Global Health Justice Partnership.

Supporting Those in Need
Bring a million books into prisons across the United States and create opportunities for incarcerated people to interact with authors and the literary community.
Increase financial aid support to help students in need to account for the economic impact of COVID-19, which has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color.
Create a dean-led initiative to make the Law School more transparent and accessible for all students.

Recruitment, Hiring, and Structural Hurdles
Ensure that our workplace, learning, intellectual, and community cultures fully align with our values.
Build on and strengthen our efforts to diversify the student body.
Build on and strengthen our efforts to hire, promote, and retain a diverse faculty.
Continue to hire and support faculty with substantive expertise in race and the law, inequality, civil rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, residential segregation, school segregation, employment discrimination, policing reform, procedural justice, mass incarceration, solitary confinement, environmental justice, educational reform, bail reform, fines and fees, misdemeanor arrests, implicit bias, sentencing reform, prison conditions, racial health disparities, economic inequality, restorative justice, wrongful convictions, voting discrimination, felon disenfranchisement, economic inequality, and the history of racial oppression.
Continue and strengthen our efforts to hire, promote, and retain a diverse staff, and work with the University to change practices and systems that impede these efforts.

History and Iconography
Build on and strengthen our efforts to diversify the iconography of the Law School through portraits, photographs, and art.
Build on the Yale Law School history project, which was started two years ago, to surface and acknowledge the Law School’s connections to slavery and racial oppression.

Workshops, Teaching, and Training
Create a dean-led pipeline program to help members of underrepresented groups become legal academics, partnering with pioneers in the field who have been supporting this work.
Create a dean-led faculty workshop on race and equality that students can take for credit.
Expand training during orientation exploring racism, inequality, and privilege, and continue to provide anti-racist training to Coker Fellows, DAs, and TAs.
Create programming examining the relationship between historical injustice, racial inequality, and contextual learning.
Provide support, including research funding, for faculty members to embed anti-racist materials into their courses.
Support the faculty-led conversations that are taking place in each of the first-term subject areas on teaching race and inequality.
Continue to advise faculty and survey students about maintaining an equitable classroom environment.
Support the commitment of the clinical faculty to incorporate anti-racism training and instruction into their own professional development and into our clinical curriculum, including professional responsibility training.
Ensure that all of the Dean’s senior advisors and senior staff will receive anti-racist training.
Encourage faculty to bring in perspectives from members of the New Haven community, especially from communities of color.

Administrative Support
Build on and strengthen efforts to ensure that every major office in the Law School employs someone charged with overseeing diversity and inclusion efforts.
Continue to support the work of our new mental-health counselor to provide mental-health resources and assistance to students of color.

Local Policing
The Law School will train our community not to call for YPD assistance on campus for non-law enforcement related matters.
The Yale Police Department has agreed to work with the Law School on a plan to redirect calls from the Law School to non-police forms of assistance whenever possible.
At our request, Chief Ronnell Higgins, who heads the Yale Police Department and Yale Security, is in the process of reevaluating the Law School’s security needs and is considering (a) deploying a swipe ID system at the entrance of 127 Wall Street during regular working hours, so that Law School staff would be the only people serving an ambassadorial/public health monitoring role inside the building, and (b) converting the role of our long-time security officers, who are unarmed, to an ambassadorial role outside of Sterling Law Building while ensuring they remain available to members of the community to help with needs like lockout assistance and walking escorts.

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