By Professor Alexi Freeman, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Director of Externships & Social Justice Initiatives
When the fall semester began this past August for Denver Law students, our students “arrived” on campus and on Zoom, exhausted, defeated, and overwhelmed. They, like all of us, were in the midst of surviving two pandemics. Indeed, it had been six months since COVID-19 threatened the health and well-being of their friends and families, and wreaked chaos on their spring semester classes and summer externships. It had also been just under two months since May 25, 2020, the date of George Floyd’s killing by police. In those two months, they witnessed a summer of racialized violence with little response from state actors. In many cases, they saw prosecutors and police failing to protect protestors’ rights. They saw elected officials, including lawyers, releasing statements quickly condemning violence but refusing to condemn police actions without more facts. While some were inspired by the racial uprising in the streets and by the commitments from law firms and other legal organizations to become “anti-racist,” many were left wondering what to think about their role as future lawyers in the midst of it all. Many were motivated to join this profession to both create and preserve laws designed to support, help and serve others, and now they were questioning how to join a system that seemed to be designed to oppress rather than liberate, punish rather than rehabilitate, and kill rather than set free.
Certainly, our students face many big questions about their professional identities and how they will use their degree to either uphold the status quo, or overhaul it and seek a new system of justice. These are questions that require self-reflection, intentionality, and deep thinking. In an effort to help them work through this process and build their awareness, understanding, and empathy, regardless of which path they take, in October, we launched the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge©. Originally developed by diversity consultant Eddie Moore Jr., the effort is designed to build habits around racial equity:
- The challenge asks individuals to spend 15-30 minutes over 21 consecutive days (ideally) reading an article, watching a video, or listening to a podcast.
- While many variations exist, as a simple google search will demonstrate, Denver Law utilized the challenge as designed by the American Bar Association’s Section of Labor and Employment this past summer.
- The goal of our Challenge reflects the ABA’s goal: to support individuals’ efforts to become more aware, compassionate, constructive, and engaged people in the quest for racial equity.
- Our challenge consists of a mix of mediums and includes articles, reflections, talks and more by lawyers and importantly, non-lawyers.
- Despite being geared towards lawyers, the syllabus ensures participants gain a broader, interdisciplinary perspective and given this moment in time, emphasizes the lived experience of Black individuals and communities in America.
- View our syllabus
While the effort is voluntary, approximately 100 members of the Denver Law community signed up to participate this month. The overwhelming majority of participants are students. We will gather together towards the conclusion of the 21 days in an effort debrief, process, and reflect in small groups. We intend to run the challenge again over Winter Break, when we know our first-year law students will be more available to participate.
We encourage other departments to embrace their own racial equity habit building challenge. While you can create your own or modify an existing syllabus, countless versions exist online, making this a doable task in the midst of an unbelievably busy time. While I know that this challenge will not answer the big looming questions for our students or change the lived experiences for many, I am hopeful that it will allow for critical self-reflection, enhance knowledge, and help ensure members of our community engage more meaningfully and thoughtfully with one another as peers now and colleagues in the future.