Class of 2024September 8, 2021 — Over the past 15 months, Penn State Dickinson Law led law schools across the country in creating and sharing antiracist scholarship and introduced a new antiracist curriculum. Encouraging more students of color to attend law school is a critical aspect of combating systemic inequality and promoting antiracism, and Dickinson Law is leading by example on this as well.

For the second straight year, Dickinson Law greets a new class where students of color make up more than a third of all students. The Class of 2024 received a formal welcome to the Law School during convocation on August 19.

This extremely accomplished class is one of the most diverse in the history of the law school. It continues recent progress on one of the vision priorities laid out by Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway. She wants to significantly move the needle on diversity for incoming classes.

Students of color account for almost 39% of the incoming class, and 16% of the students identify as Black or African American. Twenty-one percent identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, up slightly from last year, including several nonbinary students.

The students have diverse backgrounds as well, hailing from 30 different states. A fifth are the first in their family to attend college and double that many are the first to attend graduate school.

During convocation, Conway offered a warm welcome to the second class to begin at the law school amidst a pandemic. “What you have witnessed so far and what you will come to understand through experience and deep reflection is that members of the Dickinson Law community live their core values within and outside of these walls,” said Conway. “These values include excellence in teaching and learning, intellectual discovery and knowledge sharing through the production and dissemination of written works, and an unyielding commitment to building and sustaining community through service.”

She discussed how the pandemic has tested these values and cautioned big events like a pandemic would not be the only things to test them as future lawyers. “There will always be crucible events. There will always be professional and personal tests, especially in our profession,” said Conway. “Our work in the law is a race that will never finish. Let me repeat that. We will never finish that race. Instead, it is one in which we pass a baton. Our work is one of practice, in which success and failure are constant companions, and I do not share this with you to discourage you. Quite the opposite. I share it to confirm for you that there is so much to be learned from a loss, no matter how disappointing, which will prepare you for the next challenges that await you.”

She used her background as an experienced government contracts and intellectual property lawyer as a lens to outline law students’ and lawyers’ responsibilities to the rule of law, tying in the importance of dismantling systems that do not serve the public good.

“Systems design is one approach that has the potential to eliminate subordination and oppression from American society and deliver on the power and the promise of the rule of law. The simplicity of the statement belies the complexity associated with acknowledging the problem of systemic inequity and racial inequality, as well as the complicity of law in perpetuating them,” said Conway. “That said, strengthening the legal professional’s resolve to tackle these issues is the best opportunity to strengthen the rule of law. Lawyers have a unique skill set to make the vision of systemic equity a reality.”

Diversity and community provide strength

Again and again, speakers during convocation returned to the theme of diversity and how it strengthens community.

“Your diverse backgrounds and experiences will undoubtedly enhance the education that you receive here,” said Bekah Saidman-Krauss (class of 2012), associate dean for admissions and financial aid. She reminded new students that the faculty and staff are rooting for them as they begin classes and learn about the rule of law over the next three years. “Know that we believe in you,” said Saidman-Krauss.

Kendell Wilson (class of 2022), the Student Bar Association honor code representative, focused her comments on the sense of community new students quickly experience at Dickinson Law. Wilson shared how after she mentioned an interest in working at an Alabama nonprofit during a casual conversation with Associate Dean of Career Services Laura Williams, the latter immediately began brainstorming ideas for where Wilson could apply for a job.

“I am just one student with one story, and while every student at Dickinson Law has their own story, each one has common, connecting elements in how the Dickinson Law community helped shape their law school experience and future legal career,” said Wilson.

Distinguished Professor of Law and Polisher Family Faculty Scholar William B. Barker encouraged students to get to know the faculty and also touched on the concept of community. “The law will provide the ability to understand how we can improve our society, which I think is the special task of every lawyer in this country, or in the world, for that matter,” said Barker.

A closer look at the Class of 2024

Students hail from colleges near, such as Messiah University, Millersville University, and Bucknell University, and far, such as Tuskegee University, University of Toronto, and University of California-Davis. The class includes three students from the same undergraduate institution — Cornell University.

Eight percent have served their country in the military, including the U.S. Air Force, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and the Korean Army. Members of the Class of 2024 have performed service in AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Teach for America, too.

Class of 2024 members honed their leadership skills through undergraduate activities, such as serving as color guard captain for their college marching band, president of their college mock trial team, and captain of their college sailing team.

The students’ leisure and career pursuits demonstrate compassion and conviction. One became a nurse to help veterans struggling with mental health issues. Another coached children with disabilities in ice skating, while others taught refugee children, assisted survivors of domestic violence, and supported wrongfully convicted women. Their creativity shines through in activities like pursuing comedy or getting involved in community theater.

International students who are pursuing juris doctor, master of laws, and doctor of juridical science degrees represent 11 countries, including Bulgaria, China, Ghana, Iran, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Turkey.

“Welcoming the best and brightest learners from around the world certainly enriches our campus, community, and classrooms,” said Anthony Ogden, director of international and graduate programs at Dickinson Law, who completed his doctorate at Penn State in 2010.

“I hope that you feel the sense of community and family that we have here at Dickinson Law,” said Phil Petrina (class of 2022), president of the Student Bar Association. “That is one of the things that really sets us apart from many other law schools across the country. We pride ourselves on fostering a welcoming community for every member of our law community.”

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Lawyering Skills Amy C. Gaudion led the new students through the swearing in and professionalism pledge, when they promised to exhibit integrity and accountability as well as a dedication to service in the fullest sense of those terms.

Learning during the pandemic

These last 18 months have been challenging times for everyone, but convocation served as a reminder that the Dickinson Law community, both in Carlisle and with alumni across the country and around the world, stands behind each member of the new class.

“Remember, we read your admissions applications, and we chose you to become the next generation of Dickinson Law lawyers. You belong exactly where you are today — and we cannot wait to see you practice greatness,” said Saidman-Krauss.