2020 Anti-Racism Steering Committee Report
Highlights of the Survey
The anonymous survey was distributed in late June to all members of the JD classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022; all staff; and all faculty. Its goal was to provide a rigorous yet open-ended mechanism for the VLS community to describe the existing environment and to facilitate honest generation of ideas. 409 persons responded in part, and 153 answered every question. Of those who answered the question asking if they identified as a person of color, 32% so identified.
One of our recommendations in this report is to convene at least one all-VLS town hall this fall semester to discuss the survey more fully. Here we present a few key takeaways.
- As a community we vary significantly in how we understand racism. Many respondents think of racism at the individual, interpersonal level; others also see it as operative at the group and systemic levels. Some include disparate racial impacts, negative feelings or animus, and concrete discriminatory actions, while others disclaim those same elements. While some identify race as a construct, most treat race as a natural or self-defining category. This variance indicates that we have enough shared understandings of race and racism to allow us to start important conversations, but enough diversity to make those conversations difficult and illuminating.
- Faculty, staff, and student respondents demonstrate a very high level of convergence on a coherent body of desired actions, particularly the following: diversification of the faculty; diversification of the curriculum, both by adding course offerings with a focus on race and racism and by enhancing inclusion of those subjects within existing offerings; diversification of student-edited journals; greater investment in preparing students for careers that include a focus on anti-discrimination, particularly in the public and public-interest sectors; greater support for co-curricular offerings such as lectures and workshops on race, racism, and various forms of subordination; and expanding VLS’ engagement with inequality in the world outside its walls, particularly in Nashville.
- A great many respondents also called for diversification of the student body; increased programming and supports for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) students and staff; expansion of targeted scholarship opportunities; provision of high-quality equity, diversity and inclusion learning opportunities for all members of the VLS community; and staff diversification, particularly within key sectors such as Career Services and Admissions.
- Many respondents regard our path forward as a long one requiring long-term commitment and transparency, and many regard creation of a permanent infrastructure—such as creation of an administrative role, such as an Assistant or Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion—as crucial to sustained progress.
- A number of students expressed frustration and disappointment with a small number of specific interactions with faculty members, interactions they experienced as hostile or insensitive, and articulated a desire for community dialogue over how such interactions can be addressed.
- A small minority of respondents, both faculty and students, expressed a view that any VLS focus on race and racism is wrongheaded and divisive.
The survey asked three questions about VLS today that asked respondents to choose points along a 7-point-scale (1 = worst, 7 = ideal). These quantitative data should be read as general indicators of perception, keeping in mind contextual factors such as the moderate level of survey response and the lack of prior baselines. One important takeaway, though, is that across all three questions respondents who identified as persons of color generally displayed a more negative perception of our present reality than did those who did not so identify.