Belton was a nationally recognized scholar of labor and employment and civil rights law. He joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty in 1975 and became the first African American to gain tenure at Vanderbilt Law School. Before joining Vanderbilt’s law faculty, Belton spent five years as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he headed a national civil rights litigation campaign to enforce what was then a new federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment due to factors such as race and sex. He had a major role in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., a landmark Supreme Court Civil Rights case in which the Legal Defense Fund represented Willie Griggs and other African American employees of the Duke Power Co. in their challenge of a policy that excluded black employees from opportunities to apply for higher paying positions in the company.
“Bob was a beloved and revered mentor and role model to an entire generation of Vanderbilt Law students,” Guthrie said. “He was also a valued faculty colleague who made important contributions as a teacher, an advisor to students and a scholar of employment and civil rights law. I’m grateful that his positive legacy at the law school has been recognized in such a meaningful way and excited about the opportunities to build on that legacy through our Diversity, Equity and Community Office, which this gift supports.”
“My father truly enjoyed teaching at the law school, specifically the vigorous debates he had with students in and outside the classroom around equity,” stated Keith Belton. “It’s an honor that the Diversity, Equity and Community directorship will bear his name, as that demonstrates the impact he had within the VLS community. My family looks forward to attending DEC lectures, and we thank the donors who made the endowed position possible.”
The law school established a Diversity, Equity and Community Office in summer 2020 to bring its diversity initiatives under the oversight of a single faculty director, Professor Yesha Yadav, who was also charged with leading the development of new programs and initiatives. The DEC office sponsors the Dean’s Lecture Series on Race and Discrimination, the DEC/EDI Council/Vanderbilt Bar Association Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Students, and the VLS Book Club on Racial Justice and Civil Rights. With this gift, Yadav will become the Associate Dean & Robert Belton Director of Diversity, Equity and Community.
“The goal of DEC is to ensure that all our students, from all walks of life, can feel fully at home, flourish and achieve their goals,” Yadav said. “This incredible gift provides committed support for DEC’s mission and for the school’s values to build a community built on diversity, equality, justice and collegiality. The generous donors who endowed this position care deeply about these values and their longstanding ties to the law school. A permanent Diversity, Equity and Community office will enhance our efforts and support a diverse, thriving student body. It’s an honor to serve in a position that bears Robert Belton’s name. His legacy as an inspiration and mentor to generations of law students is well-known is serves as a model for all of us, teachers and students of the law, to do our best to follow.”
Yadav studies financial and securities regulation and joined the law faculty in 2011.