Legal Aid sensitivity efforts


The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau has become increasingly aware of our need to address issues of racial, ethnic and cultural sensitivity. As a student-run legal services organization, we are committed to serving low-income clients and helping them gain access to the legal system. A large proportion of our clients come from racial, ethnic and/or language minority groups. Some are victims of domestic violence. Others have mental and/or physical disabilities. Given our client population and the difficult issues they face, we recognize that we should have implemented systematic diversity and sensitivity training long ago. We have come to realize that cultural competence is not an innate characteristic — even for those with a commitment to public service and with good intentions — but rather is a learned skill.

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau has undertaken the following steps to improve the racial and cultural sensitivity of our members:

1. We have created a Diversity Task Force, separate from our Board of Directors, which is working to improve member sensitivity and the Bureau’s responsiveness to these issues.

2. We are working with an outside consultant to develop an ongoing diversity training program for our members. The Office of Multicultural Affairs that BLSA has proposed would be ideally situated to assist us in this effort.

3. We are planning to amend our by-laws to ensure that diversity training becomes a permanent part of our orientation and training programs.

4. We are examining ways to incorporate issues of diversity into Bureau-related academic courses.

5. We have met with BLSA and are planning a roundtable discussion with representatives from other affinity groups.

6. We are exploring other ideas, such as creating a general grievance policy to supplement our existing client grievance policy, and we are also investigating ways to increase our outreach to racial, ethnic and language minority communities.

By addressing issues of diversity and sensitivity, we hope to improve the Bureau as an organization and ensure that it is a safe and welcoming place for our members, our clients, and the law school community at large.

The author is president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

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