With a focus on race education, new law course aims to fill in the gaps


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(Reuters) – Roger Williams University Law School recently joined a handful of law schools across the country that now require a course focused on the impact of race in the development of American law.

The change at the Bristol, Rhode Island school comes amid a nationwide outcry over whether, and to what extent, American students should learn the history and legacy of American slavery and apartheid race of Jim Crow, presented as an opposition to the critical theory of race.

In fact, opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) has targeted far more than the theory itself – a cadre claiming racism is built into the U.S. legal system and seeking to analyze life. political and social through this lens. Under the guise of opposition to critical race theory, the conservative pullback hits anti-bias, diversity and inclusion training efforts, and old US history agendas, as Reuters reported June 23.

It was also intended for a non-existent teaching related to race. Georgia’s anti-CRT bill, for example, prohibits the teaching of concepts that a race is inherently superior or that individuals are inherently racist because of their own racial identity, which are neither principles of the critical race theory or elements of a local curriculum. .

The debate is also alive in law universities.

A recent proposal by the American Bar Association to require training of law students on prejudice, racism and “intercultural” skills has met with significant resistance, especially from professors and former deans. from Yale Law School, according to a July 1 article published by Law.com.

I interviewed Gregory Bowman, RWU Dean of Law, and Jared Goldstein, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, about their new course, Race and the Foundations of American Law, in the context of this ongoing debate on education related to the race.

The following answers have been edited for length and clarity.

REUTERS: Isn’t it an omission to teach American law without focusing on “a historical overview and a current assessment of how race has played a role in American law,” given how important race shaped American law?

GOLDSTEIN: Race has always been at the heart of American law. From the fugitive slave clause to the equal protection clause, race has been at the center of constitutional law. From the first naturalization law to the Chinese exclusion law until today, race has been at the center of immigration law. Perhaps less obviously, racial concerns have helped shape virtually every area of ​​law, including criminal law, housing law, education law, and labor law. Trying to teach students American law without talking about race would be like teaching someone to ride a bike without talking about pedals.

REUTERS: Your class seems to go beyond the ABA’s proposal (which also suggests that lawyers are obligated to promote a non-racist justice system). Do you think the ABA should demand instruction on “how race played a role in US law”, rather than just “cross-cultural competence”.

BOWMAN: Cross-cultural competence is critically important to lawyers, but it is not the same as learning about the long-standing structures and systems of American law that favor some and deprive others of their. rights. Understanding these systems makes defenders better prepared and better informed. Hopefully we will see clear guidelines from the ABA that will help bring about meaningful change nationwide.

REUTERS: The argument of the Yale law professors is surprisingly similar to those advanced by the anti-CRT mob – which are apparently based on a misunderstanding of what CRT is. They say that a requirement of “intercultural competence” is based on the assumption that some people are inherently racist. They also argued that ABA’s proposals go beyond the requirement for teaching skills, to force students to adopt a specific worldview. What are your thoughts?

BOWMAN: We have to remember that we are talking about the structural characteristics of a legal system in which we all live. And if the structures of American law are detrimental to some because of their race – and they are – then this is a very serious problem. A key place to solve this problem is legal education, where we train the lawyers and leaders of tomorrow. Our position is that our job is to train students to think critically for themselves. But if we train without providing essential information, including how race has always been at the heart of American law, then their education is incomplete. It would be a disservice to our students and the communities they will serve.

REUTERS: Why do you think most law schools don’t teach law, or Con-Law, for example, in a similar setting?

GOLDSTEIN: Many law schools recognize that, by default, the framework they use focuses on the experiences and perspectives of dominant groups in American life and neglects those of everyone else. While race issues inevitably arise in all constitutional law courses, this course attempts to provide a framework for understanding the role of law in the creation and maintenance of racial hierarchies.

REUTERS: Do you expect something different in your course once it’s a requirement (the course was piloted as an option last spring)?

GOLDSTEIN: I wouldn’t be surprised if some students first ask why this course is required, the same way my teenage daughter asks why she needs to learn algebra. Once they have taken it, however, students should see its importance in understanding the law. In a few years, I think this will seem as normal and necessary as other compulsory law school courses, like contracts.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the principles of trust, is committed to respecting integrity, independence and freedom from bias.

Hassan Kanu

Hassan Kanu writes on access to justice, race and equality under the law. Kanu, who was born in Sierra Leone and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, worked in public interest law after graduating from Duke University School of Law. After that, he spent five years working mainly on labor law. He lives in Washington, DC Reach Kanu at hassan.kanu@thomsonreuters.com


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