May 2024 — Hana Palazzo entered the recent Writing Workshop held by Penn State Dickinson Law’s Antiracist Development Institute (ADI) uncertain about what the ADI was and why it mattered. She left with a new mission and sense of belonging.

Palazzo works in the gift shop at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, where the April 19-21 workshop was held. The week before the workshop, her supervisor asked the 25-year-old, the only woman of color on the Library & Museum staff, if she would like to attend.

Palazzo felt nervous because she knew Dickinson Law was hosting the event, and she does not have any legal background. Still, the opportunity offered a chance to learn, and she decided to go. She immediately felt a connection to the subject being discussed: dismantling structures that scaffold systemic racial inequality.

“It was the universe aligning. The ADI happened to be here, at my workplace, discussing something I feel terribly passionate about,” said Palazzo. Over two days, she attended sessions dedicated to antiracism practices, connected with people from as far away as New Mexico and California, and heard new perspectives that made her rethink events from her own past.

"When I was 10 years old, I distinctly remember a classmate walking up to me on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack,” said Palazzo, who is of Japanese descent. “He asked, ‘Why did you guys do that?’ And at that moment, I felt so altered. I was aware that I looked different from my peers (they would always prod me, asking 'what kind of Asian' I am), but it was the first time I realized the impact of my race on how others perceived me. His comment made me feel ashamed to be Japanese."

At the workshop, she felt seen. “I have never felt this validated or understood by a group of complete strangers,” said Palazzo. “The discussions and stories that were shared truly inspired me, and I will forever be grateful for this experience. My mind has been blown by everything I have learned so far, and I can't wait to continue learning and contributing to the ADI moving forward.”

By weekend’s end, Palazzo and Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway, who is the executive director of the ADI, had begun discussing a plan for Palazzo to become an ADI liaison at the FDR Library and Museum and assist with future workshops in the area.

“Being able to create opportunities to share knowledge and discuss ideas with individuals who may not have had such exposure before is incredibly meaningful,” said Palazzo. “This gives me a sense of purpose as well as hope for a more equitable future. I am ready to engage in work that extends beyond my own lived experience, and it all starts here.”

That is the promise, the future, and the potential of the ADI. “People like Hana are the reason the ADI exists,” said Conway. “She is why we have to be consistently present, aware in the conversation about antiracism, and ready. We cannot slow down.”

Palazzo’s experience typified a weekend filled with moments of hope. The workshop united people writing chapters for the University of California Press book series, titled “Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession,” with others interested in the ADI’s three-pillar approach to addressing systemic racial inequality based on systems design, institutional antiracism, and critical pedagogy.

Day one: History, systems design, and the future of legal education

The workshop began with a tour of the permanent displays at the library and a special exhibit running through December titled “Black Americans, Civil Rights, and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962,” which prompted self-reflection. “I know the history, but it is different to read and see it,” said Carol M. Suzuki, who holds the Keleher & McLeod Professorship at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “Reading the section in the museum about World War II and the Japanese internment always gets me. That is heavy stuff. But we have to remember so that this does not happen again.”

Conway then welcomed everyone to the workshop and explained more about her ties to the FDR Library and Museum through her friendship with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a Roosevelt grandchild. Next, ADI Education Program Coordinator Serena Hermitt led an introduction and refresher on systems design.

Jim Griffith, a Carlisle resident who attended last fall’s inaugural ADI convening, then did a deep dive on breaking cognitive fixedness. ADI Program Manager TaWanda Stallworth invited Griffith to present since he had recently taken a Harvard course on systems design with the express purpose of sharing any knowledge he gained with the ADI. He said the ADI team's approach to inclusivity has made him feel welcome to contribute. “After more fully understanding the longstanding societal impacts of systemic racism through community involvement in recent years, I still had trepidation about getting involved with something like this,” said Griffith. “As a white person, I was concerned if I had value to add, as I did not directly experience negative racial bias aimed in my direction.

“The fact that I knew the team made me feel more comfortable approaching them. I hope that, given so much anti-diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) bias in our society, the fact that I am involved encourages more people who look like me to understand that they are also welcome to be a part of the solution.”

Takara Strong ’08, an attorney in New York City and contributor to volume six of the University of California Press book series (“Incorporating Antiracist Principles in Academic & Student Services, Academic Success, and the Bar Examination”), was unfamiliar with systems design before the workshop and now feels encouraged by its prospects for creating change. “We often react to what is going on around us. But we are not doing anything about it, or we do not feel we are in a position to do anything,” said Strong. “I am excited to be able to say, when someone asks how to help, ‘Go to volume six in this nine-volume series and look at what it says.’ I think that is just amazing.”

Day one concluded with a delicious dinner at Beekman Arms & Delamater Inn in Rhinebeck, where attendees stayed. The meal included a stimulating discussion about the future of law related to University of California Press book series editor and Rand Albany Law School Associate Dean for Research and Intellectual Life Raymond Brescia’s recent book, “Lawyer Nation: The Past, Present and Future of the American Legal Profession.” Brescia is an editor of volume six.

Nancy Johnson, a federal government attorney who has been involved with the ADI since its inception, led the discussion. “When you work as a lawyer, you work. You do not always have time to sit back and talk about important issues,” said Johnson. “I enjoyed the conversation and the different viewpoints expressed.”

Jay L. Austin is the founder and inaugural executive director of RISE Alliance, a national center within Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to support efforts of all student-facing professionals and staff at LSAC member schools. LSAC was one of the ADI’s initial financial supporters, and Austin worked at Dickinson Law from 2002 to 2009. He found the conversations surrounding Brescia’s book and other issues broached on day one invigorating, noting there is no such thing as a monolith in legal education. “RISE Alliance at LSAC works on behalf of all LSAC member law schools, and they range along a unique gamut of institutional identities and missions,” said Austin. “So I attempt to bring a very collaborative approach when engaging the student-facing staff on curating and supporting their programming initiatives.”

Day two: More systems design thinking and a standing ovation

Following breakfast at the Inn, attendees traveled back to the FDR Library and Museum on Saturday for a new day of sessions, kicking off with Nicole Dyszlewski’s look at applying systems design to ADI work. She said she feels energized by the ADI’s commitment not just to talking about change but creating it. “Many people give lip service to the work, and a lot of institutions are trying. And I am glad. But here is a group of people who have fully committed to it in big and scary but amazing ways. How could you not want to be part of it?” said Dyszlewski, assistant dean for curricular innovation at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.

Saturday morning’s sessions also included a panel of contributors to the University of California Press book series. Contributor Erin Tatum received a standing ovation for her talk about her chapter focused on disability, which details her experiences with ableism as a woman with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. Her chapter encourages people to “question the messages we are sending about whose lives are salvageable and whose are not.” Tatum traveled from West Chester, Pennsylvania, for the workshop after becoming friends with Conway, who invited her to contribute a chapter.

"I was hesitant to come. I was excited, but I was thinking, ‘I will be surrounded by a bunch of lawyers. I am an entertainment journalist. What can I possibly contribute to wonky conversations around the status quo of the legal system?’ Yes, I have experienced discrimination as a person of marginalized experience, but that does not mean I have the legal background or perspective to comment on any of that,” said Tatum. “But Danielle assured me my presence was very much welcome, so I decided to make the journey here. I am so glad I did.”

While many lawyers and law professors attended the workshop, Tatum was not the only one without a legal background, and the outside perspectives enriched the conversations. That included viewpoints shared by Penn State University Associate Professor Boaz Dvir, director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative, whose team is collaborating with the ADI following the recent University-wide scale-up. “We are excited to team up with Penn State Dickinson Law and the ADI and to assist in any way we possibly can,” said Dvir. “To a large extent, we have done a similar rollout in recent years, going from a Pennsylvania to a national program. We look forward to sharing what we learned from this process.”

Saturday afternoon’s workshop activities closed with a discussion about combatting colorblindness and anti-DEI efforts led by M. Kelly Tillery, a shareholder at the Philadelphia firm Saxton & Stump and a systems designer for the University of California Press book series, and Dickinson Law Professor of Law and Harvey A. Feldman Distinguished Faculty Scholar Dermot Groome, the ADI’s associate director.

The interactions often included differences of opinion, but they were shared with mutual respect to fuel an interesting conversation. The day culminated with another fantastic dinner, this one at Mirbeau Restaurant in Rhinebeck. Between cocktails, canapes, and an array of artfully designed dessert pastries, attendees reflected on takeaways from the weekend.

“Systems design can apply to so many things,” said Camille Burden, who holds a J.D. and now works in K-12 education in Virginia. “It got me thinking about the rootedness of racism in this country and in my regular life. There is so much work that needs to be done in my field, in education. It cannot just be in the legal field. It also has to be done in health care. There is a process that we have to continually go through to reimagine these systems.”

Day three: Looking ahead to new challenges

Sunday morning brought a bittersweet round of goodbyes. Attendees left the weekend excited about future opportunities for partnership.

Dr. Carleen Carey is founder and principal consultant of Akoma Leadership Consulting, which specializes in supporting law schools with meeting their Section 303 diversity curriculum requirements. She attended the workshop at Conway’s urging after the Dean told her, “We need you as an ally.”

“I was inspired by the Dean’s invitation to collaborate,” said Carey. “She has spoken so poignantly about the risks of burnout and getting tired in the fight for equity. With us being in coalition and community together, when I get tired, she can take up the fight, and when she gets tired, I can take up the fight. I could not turn down an invitation like that.”

Jasmine Robinson had the longest journey home after encountering hurdles to reaching the workshop three days earlier. The recent UCLA School of Law graduate, who contributed a chapter to volume six, got stuck in a TSA precheck line and missed her plane in Fresno. She immediately drove three and a half hours to San Francisco, where she just made a flight arriving in New York after midnight.

“I was committed to getting here. I had been really looking forward to this and the camaraderie of being around people working for similar causes,” said Robinson, currently serving as an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow. She initially connected with the ADI when Conway spoke at EJW’s Leadership Development Training last fall. “I feel reinvigorated using the law as a tool for social change and inspired by all the great people working on antiracism and all the fantastic chapters being written. It's been great seeing the whole arc of antiracist change in the legal field through the community contributing to the volumes of the University of California Press book series. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such impactful work.”