The past month has seen a shocking and unprecedented amount of racial animosity here at the Law School. Although individual students and professors are directly responsible for the incidents, it is time that HLS acknowledge that there is a larger, more specific problem at hand, and take steps to rectify it immediately.
All members of the HLS community must work to end a climate in which students and faculty feel that racist and disrespectful conduct is acceptable. The RECORD firmly believes that students and faculty members have the First Amendment right to say whatever they wish; however, conduct that is legally allowed does not have to be accepted or tolerated by others. The conduct in SectionIV was not academic or part of an academic debate; its intellectual merit is more akin to profanity scrawled on a wall. Students who suggest that letting others feel “comfortable” engaging in such conduct do a great disservice to the spirit of the First Amendment. This is not a speech issue, but a decency issue.
To that end, HLS must establish a formal mechanism to handle racial incidents. This could entail the creation of a new position to handle matters of institutional equity, possibly within the Dean of Students’ office. Such an office would not only be better equipped to deal with student complains, but would emblematize a stronger commitment to making black students feel welcome.
The climate of distrust and disrespect that black students refer to is not exclusive to them. HLS must work to build an institutional culture that shows respect and empathy for all its students. Most complaints – about professors, about facilities – tend to go unheeded. HLS is a small community whose size should mean greater interaction between students, faculty and administrators, not less.
One area where HLS can make improvements is obvious – the Law School can work to recruit a better student body. The students who perpetrated the Section IV incidents, and their crude methods, are an embarassment to this institution, and their utter arrogance in the face of black and other students’ anger represents the worst kind of elitist insolence. Students like these – who offend not by engaging in academic discourse, but by using the crudest and most offensive of epithets, have no place at HLS. An admissions committee that chose to interview students face-to-face could likely detect some of these faults. It is irresponsible, indeed, unconscionable that this Law School’s admissions committee provides incoming students what is essentially a direct route to wealth without ever looking them in the eye. That HLS’ peer institutions do not interview is not an argument against the proposal, but an even stronger suggestion that this Law School should regain its position as a leader.
Each of us has an obligation to do what we can to improve the Law School’s racial climate. That does not mean creating a culture of hypersensitivity or overt political correctness. It means creating a culture of basic respect, in which mistakes can be made and apologies resonate with action instead of apathy.