Inside two diversity initiatives at the Brandeis School of Law
Knowing that a diverse population of attorneys will only serve to strengthen our profession, a goal of the Brandeis School of Law’s is to ensure that our classes represent a diverse student body.
To that end, the Brandeis School of Law has two formal diversity-focused organizations: the Diversity Committee and the Law Alumni Diversity Council.
The committee, composed of three faculty members, one staff member and one student, marked its 25th anniversary in 2017. The committee members, appointed by the dean every year, are charged with developing at least two programs each semester that support diversity, inclusiveness and equity.
The Diversity Council, made up of 12 to 15 Brandeis Law alumni, interacts directly with law students through networking events and informal mentoring relationships.
When it was established in 1992, the law school’s Diversity Committee was the first of its kind at the University of Louisville, says Robin Harris, committee chair and public services librarian and professor of legal bibliography at Brandeis.
Since then, the committee has hosted events on a variety of topics: racial profiling, transgender issues, the civil rights movement in Louisville, affirmative action, disability rights, gay rights, immigration law, the death penalty, mountaintop removal, domestic violence, open housing, reproductive rights, cultural competency and worker-owned cooperatives.
The committee’s agenda can be impacted by current events, Harris says. In 2005, for example, the committee decided to plan events in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the inequalities exposed during the recovery.
Harris and the committee are aware that the issues raised at these events can be hot-button ones with the potential for some populations to feel excluded. They try hard to make the programs welcoming to all.
“We try to make the titles of the programs so that people don’t feel left out and discouraged from coming,” Harris says.
The programs are open to the public and are well-attended by community and campus members and campus as well as law students, faculty and staff.
In 2017, the committee hosted its first table during Pride Week at UofL. The committee continues to embrace opportunities to partner with law school groups, university leaders and groups and state-wide groups, combining local civic engagement and global thinking.
“It’s what everybody needs to do. Diversity is at the center of everything,” Harris says. “I think UofL’s diversity is its strength.”
In the coming year, the committee is considering hosting events discussing sexual harassment in the workplace. Another topic of interest is the case of Alberta O. Jones, a civil rights pioneer and Louisville’s first female prosecutor, who was murdered in 1965 and whose case is still unsolved. A Brandeis Law alumna successfully pushed to have the case re-opened.
Law Alumni Diversity Council
As a law student, 2014 Brandeis Law alumnus Aaron Marcus was active in several of the law school’s diversity programs, including the Diversity Committee and the Black Law Students Association.
Now a litigation attorney, he is also chair of the Law Alumni Diversity Council, made up of Brandeis Law alumni from a variety of backgrounds and practice areas.
“The alumni Diversity Council is solely committed to law students,” he says. “There are a lot of bright, qualified current and prospective students who may not feel like they’re able or capable of making it through law school. Seeing other professionals who look like you and have accomplished what you’re looking to accomplish is valuable for them. We get the opportunity to coach them and give them some confidence to make it through.”
“Our mission, generally, is to: assist and encourage the law school in the recruitment and retention of qualified students under-represented in the legal profession; to monitor and evaluate the law school’s diversity initiatives and to help obtain financial support for diversity initiatives.”
Promoting diversity among law students will lead to a more diverse legal profession — a goal very much worth pursuing, Marcus says.
“One factor is the public’s confidence in our legal system — whether that be criminal or civil — that people of all backgrounds can believe that our courts, judges and attorneys will afford them the fair opportunity to seek redress,” he says.