DICKINSON LAW BLSA’S FIRST BLACK HISTORY MONTH SYMPOSIUM SPARKS “FANTASTIC DISCUSSIONS"
February 2023 — As Penn State Dickinson Professor of Law Shaakirrah R. Sanders wrapped up a riveting presentation on “Race and the Supreme Court” during the Black Law Students Association’s first Black History Month Symposium, she paused for a moment and looked out at the students, faculty, staff, and community members packed into the room.
“I just want to say on a personal note that while I have been teaching in the legal academy for over a decade, I think this may be the first Black History Month program I have attended,” said Sanders. “I am not sure there have been planned Black History Month activities at my home institution. Often, I am or was the only Black person in the building. It is such a pleasure to see all of your faces today.”
It was a day filled with impactful conversations and also imbued with moments of joy and laughter. BLSA’s executive board came away energized by the strong turnout for the event, held on Saturday, February 18, and hopeful that it would continue in the future.
“The visibility of the Black Law Students Association should be a natural outgrowth of the antiracist mission of Dickinson Law,” said Barry W. Howard II (class of 2024), social chair of the BLSA, who helped plan the symposium. “Hosting meaningful events that commemorate, celebrate, and highlight the contributions of Black attorneys and legal personnel is one of the best ways to do that.”
“We would love for this to grow and get bigger every year,” said Andrea Faulknor (class of 2024), vice president of BLSA. “The purpose of the event was to bring together people from the Carlisle community. We had law students, students from Dickinson College, community members, professors, local attorneys, and, of course, the Honorable Royce L. Morris, who gave the keynote and is a pillar in this community. This event fed many fantastic discussions.”
The day began with a light breakfast followed by an opening greeting by Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway. Breakout sessions took place throughout the day on topics including affirmative action, wrongful convictions, and diversity and inclusion in the legal field, with a networking lunch and student-led discussion leading into Sanders’ presentation right before the keynote.
Judge Morris, who has served on the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas since 2018, drew on his decades of experience as an attorney and on the bench to frame his address. He started by reminding attendees that being real and authentic is the only way to have productive conversations about race. “Let's begin by stating the obvious. Black history is American history. For some reason, in today's political climate, that irrefutable truth is being challenged and denied,” said Morris.
He noted the recent political maneuvers and challenges designed to censor teaching of Black history — an approach, he said, that has been tried before. “This is not a new path. Whenever there is discernible, perceived progress toward full recognition of the rights and citizenships of Black people in America, there is backlash, and we talked about that a little bit in our sessions today,” said Morris. “Black folks are called unpatriotic for challenging institutions and ideas that marginalize them. However, I believe it is unpatriotic to suppress the truth about this nation.
“One of the most patriotic things that we can do as citizens is to make a truthful assessment and process the lessons of our past. If the ideals of this nation are truly the aim of our political leaders, then learning lessons from the past will help to shape that more perfect union and enhance those cherished ideals of freedom, justice, and equality for all.”
Forming New Connections
Student Pranita Dhungana (class of 2023) decided to attend the symposium after a professor mentioned it during class. She said it was the first time she had gone to a Black History Month event, and she appreciated the opportunity to hear new perspectives on diversity. “We often say diversity is important in the legal field, but we don’t always talk about why it is important,” said Dhungana. “Today I gained the tools to explain why it is important.”
The afternoon culminated in a reception in the Ridge Commons with food, an open bar, and an outstanding selection of music. As students mingled with Dean Conway, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Services Jeffrey A. Dodge, and local businesspeople, BLSA Treasurer Abraham Lamptey (class of 2024) reflected on the day.
“It was wonderful to have all types of people come together today. We often have academic events where we share theories, but that doesn’t include people from the community,” said Lamptey. “I think it’s really enriching to have this event bringing together people from Dickinson Law and those from other walks of life.”
BLSA's first Black History Month Symposium sparked fantastic conversations and drew a great turnout today! After a day packed with insightful speakers, the event culminated in a keynote address by the Honorable Royce L. Morris and a fun reception with great music.