April 2024 — Words mean nothing if no action is taken to back them up. Lawyers, who interpret the letter of the law daily, know this better than anyone.

And so when the Penn State Dickinson Law faculty unanimously passed a resolution condemning violence against people of color following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, they also knew that putting words to paper would not be nearly enough to fight for racial equality.

The faculty wanted to do something more, and their students demanded action. From this confluence of traumatic events, student-led petitions, and faculty desire to go beyond simply condemning yet another racialized attack, the Antiracist Development Institute (ADI) at Dickinson Law was born.

American democratic institutions, including legal education and the legal profession, are steeped in structural, institutional, and systemic racism. The ADI aims to dismantle structures that scaffold this systemic racial inequality using a three-pillar system based on systems design, institutional antiracism, and critical pedagogy.

The ADI has made significant progress in a short amount of time under the leadership of an accomplished team of experts, including Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway, the ADI’s executive director; Dickinson Law Professor of Law and Harvey A. Feldman Distinguished Faculty Scholar Dermot Groome, the ADI’s associate director; ADI Program Manager TaWanda H. Stallworth; and ADI Education Program Coordinator Serena Hermitt.

Now the institute has reached a new milestone. Penn State University will fund a significant scale-up of the ADI to support and grow strong, interdependent partnerships and collectives to advance institutional antiracism and active diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) through the use of systems design and critical pedagogy frameworks. The five-year plan includes recursive, immersive systems design workshops, university-wide relationship-based coalitions and collectives, and, at a minimum, two university-wide convenings to start.

“The ADI concept has real legs, which have been anchored and tested throughout the entire legal academy. What sets it apart from other important initiatives is that it is decidedly not about intellectualizing what is happening in our educational institutions. Instead, it is about channeling the acknowledgment of the reality of what is happening in our democratic institutions, in our society, and in our hearts and minds to move toward action that will disrupt and dismantle systemic racial inequality and intersectional injustice,” said Conway.

The vision, mission, and objectives of this scale-up are to deliver on a blueprint for real and impactful change leading to racial equality and intersectional justice at Penn State, specifically, and within society’s democratic institutions, generally.

“After the ADI presented at the Academic Leadership Council, I was excited by how many deans and chancellors contacted me and wanted to participate in the work of the institute,” said University Executive Vice President and Provost Justin Schwartz. “Now, as part of Penn State’s commitment to DEIB, we are investing in the next phase of the ADI, which will position the Institute as convenor and hub for antiracism design, DEIB innovation, and implementation of the three-pillar approach across the University system.”

Scaling the ADI across the University

The ADI will work in coalition with University units and Commonwealth campuses to establish pods, or mini think tanks, that will use systems design to develop projects in four areas: teaching and learning, scholarship and research, leadership and service, and community values.

Pods can include faculty, staff, and students from multiple campus locations. The work, and not necessarily geography or subject matter, will unite them. “The approach is very open, and we’re excited to engage with new ideas,” said Stallworth, the ADI’s program manager.

The ADI has already collaborated with the College of Education on previous work, and Schreyer Honors College and the Restorative Justice Initiative have expressed immediate interest. The Center for Study of Higher Education has signified interest in partnership in the second half of the year.

“I’m excited to see the work of the Antiracist Development Institute expanding to other spaces in and around the University and working collaboratively to address racial justice issues at Penn State,” said Efraín Marimón, director of the Restorative Justice Initiative at Penn State.

“We are inspired by the Antiracist Development Institute’s work and are eager for our partnership that will examine how systemic and structural racism may impact access to and success at Schreyer Honors College,” said Patrick Mather, dean of Schreyer Honors College. “This is the right thing to do; it aligns well with our mission and values and has the potential to benefit all Scholars in the long term.

“Our work will look especially closely at how these structures impact research and creative projects by creating financial, time, and/or social capital barriers.”

The scale-up underscores the conscious and deliberate investment in antiracism efforts even at a time when University leaders, administrators, faculty, and staff are laser-focused on achieving sustainable budgets through dynamic fiscal stewardship. This mirrors Dickinson Law’s stated obligation to embrace leadership and stewardship that promotes equality and justice alongside fiscal realism and responsibility.

Doing the work together: Founding the Antiracist Development Institute

The ADI’s roots reach back more than a year before its founding. Shortly after George Floyd’s murder and the faculty statement condemning violence against people of color, Dickinson Law faculty adopted a second resolution to create more opportunities for students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni to learn about and discuss race, racism, and inequality in the curriculum and in organization processes and practices.

“Everyone on the faculty not just approved the first statement but were enthusiastic about it,” said Groome. “Still, I thought, ‘I’m not sure that is enough.’ We’re a law school. If there is systemic racism in our country, we are the architects of much of it. And we are training students who will keep it going and prosper from it. I thought, ‘We have to do more as legal educators,’ and so I drafted the second resolution, not sure of what my colleagues would make of it. Once again, they were all very enthusiastic in supporting it.”

The resolution led to the development of Dickinson Law’s 1L required course, “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws” (REPL). “We were doing the work together. Our faculty, particularly Dermot Groome, Associate Professor of Law Amy C. Gaudion, Professor of Law Emeritus Michael Mogill, and many of our colleagues, got together and said, ‘We are going to teach and learn about antiracism,’ even though none of us presumed to be experts,” said Conway. “So we did that work, most times doing it together, to acknowledge that systemic racial inequality and intersectional injustice exist and operate within our democratic institutions and to learn about them and the ways in which they work to maintain and bolster white supremacy. This work, coupled with action to dismantle systemic inequity, is the purpose and mission of the Antiracist Development Institute.”

Antiracism work took many forms. For instance, the Dickinson Law Future Fund and Penn State Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, which is used to meet unexpected student needs, funded special programming for students in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

Conway pointed out that students led the push for change. “Most protests begin with students doing the work. All of our work came from our students petitioning our faculty, and it was the students, ultimately, who lit the fire that created the ADI,” said Conway.

As part of the REPL rollout, Conway, Groome, Gaudion, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid Bekah Saidman-Krauss, and Director of Admissions & Financial Aid Rebecca Schreiber wrote law review articles sharing the approach and curriculum for REPL, essentially turning it into an open-source project. Conway and colleagues presented “Building an Antiracist Law School” at the Rutgers Race & the Law Review Symposium.

“We blew them away with what we presented,” said Conway. Symposium attendee Maura Roessner, then senior editor at University of California Press and now an executive editor, requested a meeting with Conway, who had recently worked with four other black women law school deans to establish the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project. “Maura wanted to create a book so that people could replicate the success we were having with REPL,” said Groome.

From book to book series to institute

It quickly became clear that this was more than a book; it was a series. As Conway pieced together what eventually became a 26-page proposal, she realized the potential scope of the enterprise went further even than the series.

Bringing in outside support, in the form of both funding and contributors to the book series titled “Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession,” could allow the project to grow beyond the series. Conway talked with Kellye Y. Testy, the president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), who suggested presenting the idea for the book series to the law school allied associations to gain buy-in. Conway dubbed the project the Antiracist Development Institute.

The idea gained immediate and public support. Dickinson Law received three-year grant funding commitments to launch the ADI from LSAC, whose mission is to support diverse individuals from prelaw through practice; AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit that helps talented law students become professionals; and National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an organization of legal professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools.

Additionally, then-Penn State President Eric J. Barron pledged a contribution to the initial seeding. “Eric and then-Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones said, ‘We want it to be known that we are behind you,’” said Conway.

Dickinson Law launched the ADI in November 2021 with the goals of producing the book series and providing organizations across the country systems design-based approaches to implementing antiracist practices, processes, and policies throughout their functions.

We knew this was so much bigger than Penn State Dickinson Law: Building the ADI

The ADI announcement sparked feedback from Dickinson Law professors’ colleagues and others across the country.

“We were flying by the seat of our pants, and it seemed like every person we spoke to got so energized by the idea of the ADI. They would say, ‘You need to do this and this too,’” said Conway. “All these people kept building onto this project. We knew this was so much bigger than Penn State Dickinson Law.” The ADI invited chapter proposals from the public, and the book series ballooned to 10 volumes with more than 100 contributors slated.

In March 2022, Stallworth joined the ADI as program manager, giving the institute a champion. “Her passion for the project was contagious,” said Groome. “People began producing their chapters for the book series at record pace.”

Stallworth planned the ADI’s first large-scale event, the “Building An Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession” book series launch and chapter contributor conference held virtually in June 2022. It drew more than 100 colleagues from the legal academy, legal profession, and adjacent organizations for thought-provoking discussion about antiracism and problem solving based on design thinking.

The ADI was expanding rapidly. Attendees hailed from 28 states and the District of Columbia, representing more than 60 law schools and organizations. The honest conversations sparked questions while affirming the need for action.

“Black faculty would say, ‘Why does it fall to Black faculty to have to correct this problem that America has?’ That is absolutely true. And white faculty would say, ‘How can I speak authentically about this?’ And that is true. And what we realized is, with respect to the variation on these questions, there are many truths. We acknowledge that there is no one right way to address and respond to the enormous challenge of race, racism, inequality, and oppression in American society, but we do know that working in coalition with earnest partners who come to this work with integrity and optimism, we will find collective, meaningful responses to ameliorate the debilitating condition of systemic inequity. That is what the ADI does,” said Groome.

In August 2022, the ADI received another major affirmation. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to support the ADI’s work. The commitment brought institutions’ and private donors’ investment in the ADI to over $2 million.

Scaling of the ADI became a concrete option: Adding events and creating connections

The ADI has continued to grow in scope and influence since. It helped facilitate the 17th annual Lutie A. Lytle Workshop hosted by Dickinson Law last summer. The event for current and aspiring Black women law faculty is named after the nation’s first Black woman law professor and fosters scholarly development and critical networking connections.

The ADI hosted its inaugural convening in October, highlighted by a keynote address from Howard University School of Law Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Esq. Endowed Chair in Civil Rights Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The event, which drew 93 people to Carlisle from as far away as San Antonio, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, included sessions on admissions, teaching and learning, and leadership.

At that time, plans for an ADI scaleup within the University were already underway. The University had recently approved the reunification of Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law under Conway’s leadership. The Dean saw it as a sign of confidence in not just the work undertaken at Dickinson Law but also at the ADI.

“When I was approached about the reunification and becoming dean of a unified law school, that signaled to me that our executive leadership saw what we were doing as a law school proper and also with the ADI and were really impressed by all of it,” said Conway. “I think then, from their vantage point, the scaling of the ADI became a concrete option, leading to a formal request for a proposal several months later.”

Let the work lead us: Building for the future

Dickinson Law has become a leader in antiracist legal education by prioritizing collaboration and coalition. These collaborative efforts focus on dismantling racialized and oppressive hierarchies and silos that negatively impact meaningful teaching and learning, scholarly productivity and research, leadership and service, and the building of community values.

The proof of the approach is in the results. Over a three-year period, Dickinson Law has doubled its student of color population and nearly tripled faculty of color. It has received the 2020 Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) EDGE Education Award; earned media recognition; been invited by premier continuing legal education providers to present on topics such as “Antiracist Lawyering: How All Attorneys Can Build a Racial-Justice-Centered Practice;” and much more.

“We measure our success by our own exacting standards of volume of coalition members, successful operationalization of inclusive practices, and sustained, human-centered relationships within and outside of the law school and the ADI. We are an open door, and people are coming through that door from professional and graduate schools, undergraduate schools, businesses and corporations, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, institutional funders, individual donors, and alumni,” said Conway. “If you want to learn, if you want to teach, if you want to serve as a systems designer, if you want to be an editor or a reader, if you want to support the effort, the ADI awaits.”

The University-wide scaleup represents another step on the path, but much work remains to be done.

“There is a lot we can say regarding this scale-up. We are looking forward to sharing our ideas and seeing what pods emerge. But at the Law School, we keep doing the work. In many ways, we let the work lead us instead of trying to command what is happening,” said Conway. “So many DEIB programs are run top-down. An expert is onboarded to develop a program, and those who have been invested in the work are asked to watch from afar or lend a hand based on a preset agenda. This is not the ADI’s approach. The ADI will work with our colleagues throughout Penn State to engage users and their pain points to be in coalition around our colleagues’ ideations and prototypes for bringing systemic racial equity and intersectional justice to the fore.

“A scale-up means engaging with all of our colleagues committed to institutional antiracism and active diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It is to be in a relationship to succeed together in this work.”

Click here to register for the launch.