Law School receives Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) EDGE Award

November 16, 2020 — Penn State Dickinson Law received a Council on Legal Education Opportunity Inc. (CLEO) EDGE Award during a virtual reception hosted by CLEO on Thursday, Nov. 12, in recognition of its significant commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in legal education.

Dean Danielle Conway with CLEO EDGE AwardCLEO, an organization committed to diversifying the legal profession, bestowed EDGE awards to four individuals and one law school that represent excellence in each of the CLEO EDGE award pillars: education, diversity, and greater equality. Dickinson Law was honored for its role in education.

“The CLEO EDGE Awards are coveted throughout the legal academy,” said Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway. “To have the Dickinson Law community recognized alongside fellow honorees Attorneys Stacey Abrams and Barbara McQuade as well as the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement is absolutely powerful. We all understand that there is more work to be done in service to justice and equality, and I am very proud that Dickinson Law is seen as a trusted partner in this work. I am honored to be a celebrated member of the Dickinson Law community, and I thank CLEO for recognizing our collective leadership in demonstrating excellence in building a diverse, equitable and inclusive program of legal education.”

The values of diversity, equity and inclusion are paramount within the Dickinson Law community. Under the visionary leadership of Conway — the first person of color and first woman to serve as dean of Dickinson Law — the Law School has made significant strides to advance and support diversity over the last year amidst two intersecting crises, the global health pandemic and racial oppression.

As a testament to Dickinson Law’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the Law School was first in the nation to unanimously pass a faculty resolution condemning racism and taking responsibility to teach and learn in accordance with antiracist principles. A second faculty resolution affirming support for antiracist teaching followed and led to curricular modifications, including the development and implementation of a required first-year course, “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws.” Over the summer, faculty organized and attended numerous teaching and learning workshops focused on building inclusive classrooms and formative assessments. As well, faculty and staff challenged themselves to address issues of inequality, generally, and racial inequality, specifically, in course content.

Simultaneously, Dickinson Law virtually hosted the 2020 CLEO Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) after the pandemic required the Law School to swiftly pivot from planning in-person instruction to delivering a complete virtual program — a first in the 52-year history of the Institute. To further support people from communities historically underrepresented in the legal profession, Dickinson Law will again host the Institute next summer.

“Over the past 30-plus years, Dickinson Law has consistently stepped up to the plate to support CLEO and its programs,” said Chief Executive Officer of CLEO Cassandra Sneed Ogden. “We are especially pleased that during Dean Conway’s administration, more emphasis has been placed on ‘enhancing the experience of diverse students’ and expanding the diversity of its faculty. A leader in the effort to train lawyers to become community leaders, Dickinson Law’s core values and holistic educational approach give students an exceptional learning experience. We look forward to 30 more years of partnership with Dickinson Law, which is truly worthy of being named the CLEO EDGE Education recipient.”

This fall, Dickinson Law welcomed one of the most racially and ethnically diverse classes in the history of the Law School. Students of color, including four CLEO scholars, comprise 44% of the entering class — double the percentage of students of color that entered in fall 2019. Likewise, the LGBTQ+ population has doubled to nearly 20% of the student body. Currently, 22% people of color comprise Dickinson Law’s faculty.

“Part of our ability to attract faculty, staff and students who care about diversity, equity and inclusion is attributable to Dean Conway’s work in this space,” said Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid Bekah Saidman-Krauss.

In June 2020, Conway co-curated the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project, for which she and her fellow collaborators will receive the AALS Inaugural Impact Award in January 2021. Conway was also selected by Penn State President Eric J. Barron as one of three co-chairs of the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety, designed to combat racism and bias. She has delivered remarks and has served as a panelist at several virtual events focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and serves in numerous leadership roles within the University, the legal academy and the legal profession.

To further demonstrate her commitment to investing in students and developing the next generation of leaders, in July 2020, Conway made a gift of $125,000 to the Dickinson Law Future Fund, which provides unrestricted support for critical areas of need, and the Penn State Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, which supports students in financial need across the Commonwealth who apply for emergency assistance. Her act inspired faculty and staff to give nearly $27,000 — matched dollar for dollar by Penn State — to create the Dickinson Law Faculty and Staff Educational Equity Scholarship focused on increasing student diversity and providing for those with financial need.

In addition to the Faculty and Staff Educational Equity Scholarship, Tom (class of 1970) and Bonnie VanKirk and Highmark Inc. created the VanKirk/Highmark Educational Equity Scholarship; Elizabeth Vastine (class of 1994) and James Tarman (class of 1987) created the Elizabeth J. Vastine 1994 and James I. Tarman Jr. 1987 Educational Equity Scholarship, and Kevin (class of 1992) and Tracy (class of 1995) Steele created the Steele Family Leadership Program Educational Equity Scholarship at Dickinson Law. A recent $500,000 gift from longtime donors J. Rodman “Rod” Steele (class of 1966) and his wife, Karen, established the Steele Family Leadership Program in Gender and Racial Equity.

Dickinson Law also enhanced its diversity, equity, inclusion and wellness efforts by highlighting diverse experiences of faculty as part of its Community Conversations series, heritage month programs, and robust wellness initiatives to improve the law school experience for all students, with important emphasis on diverse students and their well-being.

“It is only through each of our lived commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion that we can accomplish so much in such a short time,” said Associate Dean for Academic and Student Services Jeffrey A. Dodge, who nominated the Dickinson Law community for the award. “This award is validation and recognition of our collective achievements. I am incredibly proud to be part of this community and legacy.”