Emergency Forum – Comments

On Sunday, December 7th, The Coalition hosted an Emergency Forum in Jerome Greene Hall. Students, alumni, faculty and administrators were invited to attend. A sample email that was submitted to faculty follows:

Dear Faculty
The recent non-indictments of police officers in the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have brought conversations regarding police brutality against Black people to the foreground and have ignited a nation-wide social movement. These events constantly resonate in the consciousness of Black students and impact their lives on a daily basis. For students of color, studying the law in the wake of broad and brutal state sanctioned violence, is particularly polarizing and traumatizing.
Students of color, as well as supportive allies, have been working tirelessly through protests and other initiatives to combat the violence being perpetrated on their community. Students of color here at Columbia Law School have formed a coalition to advocate for students who are in dire need of support from the law school community at this time. 
In an effort to facilitate an open and honest conversation between students, faculty and administrators, the coalition has planned an open dialogue that will give students an opportunity to express their feelings about recent events and discuss ways in which the law school community can be responsive to their needs and the broader social movements currently taking place. 
The forum will take place tomorrow, December 7th, at 5pm in JG 105.  
Please use the following link to RSVP for the Open Dialogue and submit a comment to presented at the event.

The following comments were submitted by attendees:

“Words cannot capture the emotion of learning that some lives matter more than other lives, solely based on skin color. To have that confirmed, seemingly ever week, in the wealthiest country in the world, is heartbreaking.

This is to the administration: Please please show all of us that you are listening to the current students at this event. Based on the things I’ve read, that hasn’t been happening. I would hope that CLS can see this as a chance to learn from its mistakes and show that it can listen to its students again. CLS has a great opportunity to show that it’s still one of the institutional leaders in the civil rights movement. Above all – please show all of us that you are engaging and listening to the current students of color.” CLS Alum, Class of 2013

“My reaction to Columbia Law School’s lack of support for current students of color is the same as my reaction to the recent grand jury decisions – disappointed, but not surprised. The student narratives I’ve heard thus far remind me of my own experience at Columbia. I have never felt so aware of my identity as a Black woman – I have never felt so othered – as I did at CLS. Except for a few bright spots found in the classrooms and offices of professors generous with their time and compassion, CLS was a repressive and hostile environment. To current students, I say it gets better – graduation is an awesome act of self care.

To the administration, I say I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that Columbia contacts me often for support in the form of donations when it failed to adequately support me and many of my peers while I was there, and continues to fail to support its current students of color. CLS is well aware that it has a problem supporting diverse students, including students of color, low income students, public interest students, LGBTQ students, veterans, and religious minorities. Past students, including myself, have advocated CLS to do better. It has not.

So I urge the administration to do what it obviously has not done effectively thus far – listen to students and meet their needs. Do not dismiss them as overreacting or overly emotional. They are not. Act swiftly in supporting these students and postponing exams if they say it’s necessary to do so. CLS already has a history of emotional and mental unwellness during exam season. I can’t fathom studying and taking finals with the added burden of systemic dehumanization and institutional neglect. Please do not wait until it is too late to act. Act now.” CLS Alum, Class of 2013

“My comments aren’t specific to the non-indictments. It’s about how the CLS environment impacts people of color.

I will not forget the first week of Legal Methods when I approached our esteemed professor to discuss an observation I had about our few days of reading. I was nervous as hell because it was the first week of law school (or law school summer camp rather), but I encouraged myself to talk to him anyway. What I thought would be an amicable exchange that would indicate to the professor that I was thinking about the case law, turned into something that colored my perception of Columbia and the legal field within the first week of orientation.

Rather innocuously, because it seemed pretty apparent from the cases we had read thus far, I asked the professor if the law initially developed as a means of protecting property rights of elite classes. I mean, all the corporations were winning so what else was I supposed to think from this selection of cases? He was pretty dismissive in his response. I thought it was over. Nope!

The next day, without calling me by name specifically, he tersely announced to the class that a student came up to him advocating Critical Legal Studies. He then railed against crit for several minutes and essentially made it clear it was an inappropriate topic of discussion. Mind you, my knowledge of CLS was basically nill. What I did know is that some of its advocates consisted of lawyers of color. I couldn’t help but think that this man looked at me and completely dismissed my thinking as just something those other black women do. Rather than advocating for a particular philosophy, however, I was expressing an observation based on, what seemed to me, a basic reading of the texts.

It was then that I realized the law, at least as we were to approach it at Columbia, was not something lawyers critique in any way but something we simply advocate for clients, whether that law is good or bad, unjust or oppressive.

I was dumbfounded. But more than anything, I was disappointed. I was disappointed that a school that accepted me on the account of my commitment to social justice seemed to, in practice, direct students to anything but.

I’m seeing the same type of sentiments in the administration’s response to the passion of those students who want to be involved in something that’s larger than themselves and larger than law school. I do hope CLS assesses both how it engages students of color and how it creates an environment that doesn’t just support advocacy of the law, but that it also supports those who want to recreate the law for those consistently oppressed by it.” CLS Alum, Class of 2014

“First and foremost, thank you CLS students for taking action. At such a difficult time, I can understand how difficult it is to focus on your studies, particularly when they have such high-stakes attached to them. I understand the time constraints on all of you right now, but I highly encourage you to join the thousands of people on the streets who are just as fed up as you. And most importantly, please continue to organize. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” – Frederick Douglass

To the administration, I encourage you to take the demands of the students seriously. As a recent graduate of CLS, I can attest to the feeling of alienation I often felt as a person of color at CLS. I was often asked to provide the “community perspective” in my classrooms because there was such a lack of diversity. I was profiled not only within the walls of CLS, but in the entire Morningside Heights neighborhood. And the insensitive comments made by my classmates and some of my professors only served to push me further into the shadows of the campus.

In addition to the demands made by current students, I also implore you to take affirmative steps to make the campus more welcoming for students of color. Establishing open and sustained dialogue with students is a good start. I also encourage you to provide training for all your students and faculty on implicit bias, white privilege, and individual and systemic racism. These lessons should carry over into the classroom, where discussions of race, class, gender, and sexuality must take place in a respectful manner. Professors should be encouraged to explicitly talk about these issues and must receive training on how to do so appropriately. Failure to talk about these issues only signals to students that these issues are not important, despite the fact that these issues are a part of many students’ daily experiences and identities.

Moreover, you must begin offering more opportunities for students who have a desire to pursue a career in the public interest. Although I was able to successfully navigate through the process of obtaining a public interest job, I know that many of my classmates had a much more difficult time, and the social justice fellowship given to many students after graduation is not nearly enough to keep up with the cost of living. Finally, you must address the very real issue of low bar passage rates for people of color. As someone who did not know any attorneys growing up, I had no idea that law school would put me in a sink or swim environment. That model needs to change. Students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend CLS, and they should be given the support they need to succeed in law school, and to successfully pass the bar exam. An acknowledgment of the pain that many students are feeling as a result of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the failure to indict their killers, is the first step to real change at CLS.” CLS Alum, Class of 2013

“My comment: “In the wake of the non-indictments, the administration’s silence is a clear effort to maintain the status quo and to encourage its students to do the same. The status quo kills. The status quo, like silence, is unacceptable and unconscionable.”

I offer also a quote from Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN (p. 156):
“That time and that time and that time the outside blistered the inside of you, words outmaneuvered years, had you in a chokehold, every part roughed up, the eyes dripping./That’s the bruise the ice in the heart was meant to ice./To arrive like this every day for it to be like this to have so many memories and no other memory than these for as long as they can be remembered to remember this.” CLS Alum, Class of 1995

“I still feel an attachment to Columbia Law School even though my time there was mostly miserable, as I felt marginalized and on the fringe the entire time. I feel the same about my citizenship in this country. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, if you will.

I will never forget daring to stand up to a White student who said, in my Con Law class, that he didn’t see anything wrong with “separate-but-equal” and then being contacted by Student Services weeks later, who requested that I participated in mediation because the White Student (who sent me abusive hate emails) allegedly felt intimidated and victimized by my in-class rebuttal. I politely refused. I have never received an apology, from the student, or the Law School.

All hail (the courageous students of color at) Alma Mater.”  CLS Alum, Class of 2010

“I grew up on the white side of a small, conservative town in North Carolina. I have never been more painfully aware of my race than I was during my three years at Columbia Law School.

For instance, during my first semester as a 1L, I was so excited to find out that my civil procedure professor was a woman and, like my college mentor, a Yale Law School graduate. At a student lunch, I rushed to get a seat beside her, in hopes of actually getting to know her. But my hopes were quickly dashed when, at the lunch, she began to complain about the uncertainty of getting her young twins into kindergarten at the elite private school that she had attended due to “diversity measures.” Not just racial diversity measures, she quickly turned to me to clarify, “Economic diversity, too.” It just wasn’t fair, she explained, because “the families that had built these institutions,” weren’t guaranteed the future benefits of those educations.

In an instant, I realized that while I saw in her a potential role model, an energetic and engaging teacher, a former Ginsburg clerk, she saw me without any nuance. A black girl. A diversity candidate.

The weight of the microaggressions that students of color at Columbia Law face is difficult to quantify. Our experiences are necessarily anecdotal, circumstantial and hard-to-prove. But they deserve your attention, Columbia Law, because the weight is heavy enough to keep our hands down in classes in which class participation can make all the difference. It is heavy enough to deter us from writing for Law Review. It is heavy enough to crush a spirit.” CLS Alum, Class of 2014

“To current CLS students, I first want to say that I deeply empathize with the frustration and sadness you must feel as you process these recent grand jury decisions, and affronts to the American criminal justice system, from the walls of Jerome Greene Hall. It must be both disorienting and disheartening to prepare to find the “right” results to legal problems on your upcoming exams, in the face of the wrong results being handed down time and time again.

As we bear witness to the violence being imparted upon American communities in the name of the law, I feel that it’s important to remember what law is, and what it can be. To me, a lawyer is above all else a guardian of the law. We have a responsibility to protect the law from perversion and manipulation by the powerful or ill-intentioned. When faced with legal problems, we ask not, “is this outcome sound?” but instead, “is this outcome just?” And in the face of injustice, we must remember that we are privileged holders of legal knowledge whose powers can be harnessed to change the status quo.

As you all gather today, I hope that you will find strength in your fellow classmates, faculty members, alumni and allies. You are in the community of some of the most brilliant, compassionate, dedicated and courageous people that I know.

Together you all are poised to take part in the next great social movement in the United States. The feelings of outrage and heartache expressed across the country recently can be translated into legal stories and concepts. We can think innovatively to find novel legal avenues to seek redress for the harms being done to American society. Where these avenues do not exist, we can create them ourselves just as so many brave lawyers have in the past. I hope that today marks the beginning of a journey for change. This journey is sure to be long and arduous, but ultimately, it is sure to prevail, for justice is on OUR side.”  CLS Alum, Class of 2013

“When the law school fails to make public and community statements and to respond (without students having to demand) to such grave injustices, it seems we are an institution perpetuating these injustices rather than one that might be poised to challenge them. And as a student of color in this institution, I feel silenced. Like I’ve been told my place: That, if I want to be part of this elite legal community, I too must be complicit in the systematic oppression and racism that’s displayed itself in these incidents; That, though CLS might encourage it’s “public interest” students and community, social justice is not the institution’s, nor the legal system’s, main focus. And while none of this really surprises me, as I’ve known it all along to some extent. It is heartbreaking and crushing to see that this lack of response and support, a calling out of what is obviously wrong, would persist even when a man was crushed to death after yelling, “I can’t breath.” And instead of calling it unjust murder, it’s lost in a legal system that makes this ok. And we’re supposed to be ok with that. I feel silenced. I feel hurt. I feel crushed. – if Columbia Law school is going to keep us as token diversity candidates, please at least be sensitive to how we feel now, even if you can’t take a stand saying this is wrong.” CLS Student, Class of 2015

“THANK YOU, CLS students- for using your voice and your privilege (tremendous privilege) to stand in solidarity with this struggle. I hope you continue to use your power as a student body to make administration answer the difficult questions…like why are the numbers of Black and Latino students at CLS continue to be so astonishingly low? Tip: answers like “b/c these students don’t apply” “b/c these students don’t have the qualifications” do not constitute an acceptable answer.

Again, thank you students!” CLS Alum, Class of 2012

“The recent visible racial injustices — and the countless that are less visible — are shocking and unspeakable. I convey my deepest concern, empathy, and love for our students of color, and offer whatever help I can provide.” CLS Professor

“Since my 1L year, I have been expressing my frustrations with CLS’s administration. They make it too clear that they are not here for their students. Professors are here to further their research and get published. The staff (for the most part) is concerned with numbers (employment, diversity, grades, etc). No one cares about the students’ experience. It is now more than ever that law schools should support their students, especially those of color, and assure them that their decision to pursue a law degree still has meaning. It is now that law schools should assure students that their voices and their sentiments matter. I vowed that I would never give back to CLS. As a 3L, I could not wait to leave. But then I fell in love with the 1Ls and realized that I wanted to make sure that their experience was better than mine. These recent events show that this is not the case. CLS needs to foster an environment that encourages students to push back and question policies and practices that do not seem right. The fact that students are protesting and demanding justice should be worn as a badge of honor—as something CLS should be proud to publicize. Instead it quiets it and arguably punished behavior that has brought so much esteem to its very halls (Greenberg, Crenshaw, Shaw). I am extremely disappointed with the administration and completely support what the current students are doing.” CLS Alum, Class of 2014

“As a white woman I hesitate to comment here as my voice is not the one that should be lifted up. I am grateful to have been embraced and welcomed into the BLSA community in my three years at CLS. My participation in Fred Doug Moot Court discussing the racism behind the 100:1 sentencing guidelines was transformative for me. My father is a recovering crack addict and while my family went through tremendous struggle and feared for his life, we never knew the fear that he would suffer or die at the hands of the police. That is a fear that every person of color must face for themselves and their family everyday in this country. I urge you to make space during this time of struggle for the voices of the students currently at CLS to be heard.” CLS Alum, Class of 2009

“I am unfortunately unable to attend but would like to express my feelings nonetheless. I would like to remain anonymous.

I stand in solidarity with CLS Critical. I attended Columbia Law School to become a civil rights lawyer, to use law as a tool to secure justice for marginalized communities. I am aware of the privilege I had attending Columbia Law School, but I never felt completely accepted by the majority of my classmates, my professors, or the administration. My lens attending law school was one of social justice; I interpreted and analyzed every case I read knowing that our laws and legal system was based on a system of inequality that still pervades today. However, I never felt comfortable expressing views on systemic inequality in classes because I never felt they’d get taken seriously. I never felt they were part of my professors’ agenda whatsoever. For example, when I took Federal Courts and my professor asked us to skim the entire readings on civil rights litigation. Civil rights litigation, the reason I came to Law school, was not taken seriously enough by the professor to dedicate more than 5 minutes of hollow discussin to. And this is what my experience at Columbia has always felt like-like social justice was not important, and not relevant to the majority of the school. I continued on my path to become a civil rights lawyer, but I wonder how many students’ became disillusioned after realizing that that path was not taken seriously by the school, or at least, not taken as seriously as the corporate path. I hope the administration takes these demands seriously, and opens its eyes to the injustice students in its community face every day.” CLS Alum, Class of 2013

As a first year Contracts student, I had the privilege of witnessing one of the most talented professors that I have ever encountered. Professor Bob Scott was so cool, calm, collected and knowledgeable, that listening to him lecture about Contracts was like watching Bob Ross paint on that old PBS show… he made it seem so effortless. During the last class of the semester he ended with a speech that was so eloquent and smooth that he was able to briskly walk out to a thunderous applause. A well deserved one. He basically had a *drops mic* moment.

Last Monday I watched interim Dean Scott give a short speech during the early part of the forum on ferguson. He appeared uncomfortable, somewhat nervous, and nowhere near as impressive as he had been during those Contracts lectures. When he sat down after his speech, he received an applause from the audience. The applause had nothing to do with the quality of the speech that he had just given and everything to do with the students’ understanding that Dean Scott was actually there among them. He could have gotten up there and recited lines from “Home Alone 2” and students would have still clapped.

To me, Dean Scott represents the current power structure (here at Columbia and also beyond) and his unearned applause made something clear to me… people respect the power structure so much that they are privileged to be in its presence, both when it performs well and when it doesn’t. That reverence for the system and for the power structure as it currently exists means that I should brace myself for long discussions about how to achieve gradual gains by making other people understand that black lives matter. Don’t ask for too much too fast.

That is the frustrating part of this whole series of events. If Black lives matter, then Black property matters too. If Black property matters, then so does Black labor and if all of these things matter, then society has to come to grips with the reality that a large segment of its population is owed for hundreds of years of being robbed of lives, property, labor, and basic humanity. So yes black lives DO matter but not only in the sense that police need to stop killing unarmed black and hispanic people and raping black and hispanic women.

The feeling is comparable to being owed one million dollars by someone who makes you beg, fight, and protest for one dollar. In this way, when they give you the one dollar “gift,” you are so excited about that “progress” that you are almost fine with the fact that this person has no intention of giving you the other $999,999.00 that you deserve. We’ve been given these “gifts” before in the form of civil rights legislation, token individual success stories and more. How do we make this moment the moment where we get what we deserve and not what the current power structure is willing to “gift” to us?” CLS Student, Class of 2015

“When we have these conversations it hurts and angers me to hear how completely divorced from human empathy many people are. We are people. We have friends and family just like you. We deserve the basic understanding and respect promised to all who live in this country. When we tell our stories we should not be met with swift dismissal and thoughtless cynicism. To be told that our millions are effectively a group of liars and overly sensitive dependents in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary is insulting beyond measure. Think before you speak. Remember we are human beings, American citizens, people just like you. Our experiences aren’t fabricated and the basic human dignity we demand is no more than what we deserve.” CLS Student, Class of 2017

“Change Gon Come?

NY Cries,
Another Black Boy Dies

CNN Coverage,
Tear Gas and Hundreds …

Of Protesters Who Want Justice
Shots Fired and They Disperse

Has anything changed?

The answer is plain.
Same story, different name.

In 09′, I taught kids when Oscar Grant died
In the streets when kids in Oakland cried.

Saw Tear Gas and Cops Standing Ground
Why can everyone stand ground whose not Brown?

Mehserle Saved, Zimmerman Saved, Wilson Saved, Pantaleo Saved,
But black families will never be the same.

I fought hard in college, but now I fight in a different way
You have to beat the man at the man’s own game.

Is a change gon come?” CLS Alum, Class of 2014