A Leader in Antiracist Legal Education

Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff are paving a new path in antiracist legal education.


In 2020, Penn State Dickinson Law faculty passed a resolution adopting an antiracist approach to legal education. Dickinson soon launched a civil rights, equal protection, and social justice certificate program; a new required first-year course “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws”; the creation of the Antiracist Development Institute and accompanying book series; and the Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project established by Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway.

Coursework

All first-year students are required to take “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws,” a course which invokes critical theory and critical pedagogy, aiming to transform how students see their place and role in an imperfect and still-evolving democracy.

The course examines the root causes of systemic racism through the lens of history and current events. Students learn why landmark legal decisions from the civil rights era have not realized their potential in changing the day-to-day lives of people of color. “Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws” also relies on the principles of shared praxis, an approach to teaching grounded in critical pedagogy, to help students explore the sources of law and justice that can be used to address the problems.

Students are asked to develop their own responses to the material as law students and lawyers. Session topics include “Using the Law for Change,” “Capitalism and Commercial Law,” “Slavery: Historical and Modern Privilegia,” and more. Lawyers, community leaders, and alumni address the students on these topics, sharing their perspectives to illustrate concepts with real-world examples.

Dickinson Law’s second- and third-year law students have become involved in the course as well by researching, drafting and editing materials for the class. The course includes breakout sessions for students to discuss what they hear and read, which has facilitated difficult, important conversations about race and the legal system.

Dickinson Law also implemented a civil rights, equal protection, and social justice certificate students can earn through relevant coursework.

Antiracist Development Institute

Penn State Dickinson Law is furthering action to lead Antiracism efforts by creating an Antiracist Development Institute (ADI), a program offering organizations across the country systems design-based approaches to implementing antiracist practices, processes and policies throughout each of their functions.

The ADI will run its first prototype course in Fall 2022, concurrent with the debut of a phase-one rollout of selected volumes from the eight- to ten-volume book series, titled “Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession,” which will be edited by Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway.

The missions of the institute and book series align with the University’s Strategic Plan, which includes a foundational pillar aimed at “Advancing Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity.” Penn State President Eric J. Barron affirmed the value of the ADI to the University as a whole, saying, “Penn State is proud to support the ADI and Dean Conway in leading this important effort to reimagine the role of law schools in higher education and in our society, and we are grateful to the other organizations and donors who have stepped forward with support as well. By creating more equitable academic communities of legal professionals and scholars, both present and future, the ADI can be a force for change that will reverberate far beyond the campuses of the participating law schools and across the nation.”

While more than 80 colleagues inside and outside of the legal academy have already signed on to write chapters for the book series, Dean Conway intends to involve as many contributors as possible to write additional chapters, review chapters, and workshop chapters before bringing the content online for use during the first beta test cohort of the ADI. Individuals interested in participating as chapter contributors, systems designers, content reviewers, and/or workshop facilitators are invited to complete the “Antiracist Book Series Involvement” survey.

Conway proposed the eight- to 10-volume book series to guide a collective movement among the approximately 200 American law schools to embrace Antiracism as a core value for teaching and learning, with the goal of perpetuating systemic equity throughout the legal academy and the legal profession.

The ADI builds on the concepts and information presented throughout the book series to provide law schools and other institutions with a starting blueprint that will be workshopped through the stages of systems design. Teams of participants will actively ideate, prototype, test, implement and assess their collective approaches to developing Antiracist practices, policies and procedures that will permeate each function of the organization. The process is meant to be iterative, creating negative know-how from failure and positive know-how from success, all of which can be referenced when moving to disrupt systemic inequity in another function of the organization.

Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project

Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway was instrumental in establishing the Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project in 2020. The project is a webpage for law deans, faculty, and the public that contains resources and information related to addressing racism in law and legal education. Dean Conway, along with four Black women law dean colleagues, were awarded the AALS’ 2020 Inaugural Impact Award for the creation of the Clearinghouse.