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2020 Anti-Racism Steering Committee Report


We at Vanderbilt Law School are deeply saddened and angered by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black people whose lives have been unjustly cut short by police brutality and racial violence. We are reminded of our country's long and troubled history whose legacy remains manifest in lost lives and lost opportunities. As a community devoted to the law, we are committed to using our education, knowledge, and skills to do our part to build a society that realizes the promises enshrined by our founding ideals and the Constitution.

In June 2020, Dean Guthrie created three task forces and a steering committee to address one central question: “What concrete actions should we take as a faculty, staff, and student body to address racial inequities and injustices that afflict the school, community, and beyond?”

We have taken that call seriously. Since that time, we have convened student, faculty, and staff task forces to gather information, debate ideas, and develop proposals to build a more inclusive and anti-racist community at Vanderbilt. We have implemented a VLS-wide anonymous survey and analyzed the responses. Based on these processes, each task force has submitted its own report and recommendations to the Dean. Finally, as the Dean has asked of us, we—the steering committee—have prepared this report to be shared with the entire VLS community. In it, we synthesize points of commonality and outline what we believe to be the essential components of the path forward.

Our recommendations are ambitious and span a range of short-to-long term objectives. While some require small tweaks to existing features of VLS, others require a more fundamental investment of time, energy, and community resources. Others still necessitate serious reflection and debate with respect to their content and implementation.

We recognize that we are delivering this report in extraordinary times. The killing of George Floyd has sparked an historic moment of collective outrage and reckoning that has brought us to this conversation. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting enormous strain on our resources at the Law School and University levels, upending normal VLS operations and requiring immense effort from administrators, staff, and faculty. We also face significant restrictions on hiring in the current environment. These realities make implementation of some of our recommendations more difficult than others, particularly in the short term, pushing us to be creative and resourceful in how we approach our goals. We  anticipate that our work will serve as a standard bearer rather than a strict blueprint, a tool with which to start a community-wide conversation and period of growth, doing the absolute best we can as a community within a fast-changing environment. It is our hope that such growth takes us ever closer to the goal of fully achieving an inclusive, equitable, and more just Law School and society.

We begin this report by outlining the process we followed to arrive at this set of recommendations; we then summarize key data and themes derived from the survey. We then organize our report and recommendations around five guiding concepts that have emerged from this collective inquiry:

  • Diverse VLS Community,
  • Belonging at VLS,
  • Diverse Learning at VLS,
  • VLS as Citizen, and
  • VLS Commitment.
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