VLS Steering Committee on Racial Inequities and Injustices issues report

The Vanderbilt Law School Steering Committee on Racial Inequities and Injustices has recommended concrete actions the law school’s faculty, staff and students can take to ensure that the school creates and promotes an inclusive, diverse and supportive environment within Vanderbilt and in the wider community.

The recommendations were developed by three antiracism task forces representing students, faculty and staff, who worked together this summer to develop proposals to address all aspects of the law school’s mission and activities.

“Dean Chris Guthrie asked the committee to identify concrete actions we should take as a faculty, staff and student body to address racial inequities and injustices that afflict the school, community and beyond,” said Yesha Yadav, associate dean for diversity, equity and community. “The goal is to develop both short- and long-term agendas for systemic and ambitious changes that will enable Vanderbilt Law to meet the highest standards of diversity, inclusion and community engagement going forward.”

Dean Guthrie appointed Yadav in August to a newly created deanship tasked with leading changes aimed at promoting racial justice, anti-discrimination and anti-racism at Vanderbilt Law.

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In the coming months, Dean Yadav and Dean Guthrie will work with faculty, students and staff to develop a targeted program to achieve goals that address student, faculty and staff recruitment, academic and career opportunities, and practical learning and volunteer opportunities. They will also work closely with Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Chris Meyers and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Chris Serkin to build on the law school’s existing diversity, equity and inclusion programs, which include annual short courses such as Policing in the 21st Century and Bans, Walls & Raids: Civil Rights in an Era of Fear, taught by civil rights lawyer Arjun Sethi, an expert in policing and racial and religious profiling who has taught short courses and mentored students at VLS for several years as a member of Vanderbilt’s adjunct law faculty. Meyers and Yadav advise the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council, formed two years ago with representatives from all student affinity groups.

They will also work with Associate Dean for Research Ingrid Wuerth to support faculty scholarship and programming in the field. Dean Wuerth points to a number of VLS faculty whose scholarship focuses on racial justice and discrimination, including Daniel Sharfstein, whose work examines the legal history of race and personhood in the U.S.; Christopher Slobogin, who joined a coalition proposing policing reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s death; Jessica Clarke, who is a leader in the field of anti-discrimination law; and Jennifer Shinall and Joni Hersch in the Ph.D. Program in Law and Economics, whose work separately and together examines workplace discrimination.

“Many VLS faculty do important work aimed at supporting and promoting racial justice and examining and addressing systemic inequities in our systems of criminal justice, consumer and corporate finance, immigration, housing, environmental regulation, employment and education,” Wuerth said. “We recognize a duty to support and promote that work.”

Dean Guthrie emphasized that the committee report is an important step, but only a first step. “I am grateful to the faculty, staff, and students who worked tirelessly this summer on the task forces and steering committee, and I am thrilled that Professor Yadav has agreed to serve as associate dean for diversity, equity and community,” he said. “I recognize that we have a lot of work to do, and I am confident that we can make a meaningful difference for the law school, the university and the community.”

The student task force, co-chaired by Samantha Furman ’21, Esther Lee ’21 and Noor Maarfi ’21, also included Shaylen Braggs ’22, Khalil Bryant ’22, Ryan Feeney ’21, Miles Malbrough ’22, Olisa Onyiuke ’21, Kate Uyeda ’22 and Nouha Zaabab ’22.

The staff task force, co-chaired by Betsy Key and Dominique Millen, also included Grace Chee, Robert Dortch, Victoria Dorward, Brandy Drinnon, Jasmin Felton, Michelle Kovash, Kat Manning, Jennifer Miller, Todd Morton, Clanitra Nejdl, Francesca Rutherford, Caroline Sirko and Felicia Vaden.

The faculty task force, co-chaired by Terry Maroney and Karla McKanders, also included Margaret Blair, Lisa Bressman, Michael Bressman, Jessica Clarke, Gautam Hans, Joni Hersch, Susan Kay, Spring Miller, Larry Reeves, Ed Rubin, JB Ruhl, Herwig Schlunk, Daniel Sharfstein, Ganesh Sitaraman and Ingrid Wuerth. The faculty task force thanks Katie Hanschke and the staff of the Alyne Queener Massey Vanderbilt Law Library for vital research support.

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