Anti-Racism Steering Committee—A Year in Review

Dean Lester shares updates on the Anti-Racism Steering Committee (ARSC).

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community,

Over the past year, the Anti-Racism Steering Committee (ARSC) has been instrumental in articulating a set of priorities and catalyzing the implementation of initiatives throughout the Law School in furtherance of our institutional commitment to anti-racism. The ARSC’s significant impact is evident in the broad array of projects it has initiated and supported. I write today to express my gratitude to the committee for its intensive efforts and to update our community on the next phase of this important work.

As an ad hoc task force, the ARSC’s strength has been in its ability to move with agility to identify opportunities for action and collaboration. Going forward, we must build on this momentum by embedding the priorities, programs, and interventions developed and facilitated by the ARSC into the fabric of the Law School. To that end, I will be asking the Law School’s Vice Deans and senior administrators to continue to prioritize the promotion of anti-racist values in fulfilling their leadership responsibilities and, beginning next year, I will be putting in place several measures to ensure clear assignment and coordination of responsibility.

  • Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee:  I will convene an Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee for the 2021­–2022 academic year. The Coordinating Committee will oversee and track progress against the ARSC’s benchmarks during the upcoming transitional year, and it will aid in the development of initiatives outlined below. The Coordinating Committee will consist of the three faculty Vice Deans; the chairs of the three appointments committees; the chairs of the curriculum, teaching, and naming and symbols committees; Robert Ford (in his new capacity described below); the Dean of Social Justice Initiatives (SJI); the Dean of Students; two students (to be appointed); and the Dean (serving ex-officio). I expect that the Coordinating Committee will meet at regular intervals and share updates with the community as necessary.
  • Administrative Leadership:  I am pleased to announce that Robert Ford will assume the role of Executive Director of Student Services, Community Engagement, and Equity. Robert has led the administration of the Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program and anti-racism book clubs this year, and for several years he has been an important facilitator of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in his current role as Director of Student Services. In this new position, Robert will serve as a point of contact and communication between faculty and students, and he will lead efforts within the administration to continue the process of implementation of programs and initiatives set forth in the ARSC agenda. 

In addition, responsibility for the substantive components of the ARSC’s work will be allocated as follows. To ensure sustainable effort and attention, I expect that, following the 2021–2022 academic year, the specific individuals and committees outlined will assume ownership of the areas noted below.

  • Faculty Appointments and Recruitment: I will expressly charge the chairs of our appointments committees, who in turn will expressly charge the committee members, with sustaining and improving upon the progress we have achieved in identifying and recruiting faculty from underrepresented groups. The chairs, committee membership, and faculty will take guidance from, and appropriately update and evolve, the ARSC’s appointments-related recommendations to the faculty, including assigning a member of each committee to serve as its diversity advocate.
  • Teaching and Learning: The Vice Deans for Curriculum and Intellectual life, along with the newly created Committee on Teaching, will assume responsibility for existing initiatives related to inclusive and culturally competent pedagogy, such as the annual teaching letter, faculty trainings and workshops, collecting student feedback, and onboarding of faculty. The Vice Deans and the Committee on Teaching, working with the Dean of Students, will likewise oversee the creation, management, and assessment of new academic initiatives on race and related topics, such as the creation of courses, reading groups, book clubs, and graduation prizes, and the facilitation of collaboration among instructors of the same course.
  • Community Engagement: The Vice Dean for Experiential Education, working with the Director of Externships and members of the clinical faculty, and in collaboration with SJI, will take the lead in coordinating legal work in Harlem and the surrounding community. The Dean of Students, working with other members of the Student Services team, will oversee DEI-related programming, community outreach and service opportunities, vendor relationships with minority and women-owned businesses, faculty–student pro bono projects, new student orientation, and other supportive services and programs for students.
  • Fellowships, Scholarships, and Grants: The Racial and Social Justice Fellowships will be administered by SJI. The Diversity and Opportunity Scholarships and the First-Generation Scholarships will be administered by J.D. Admissions. The Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program will be administered by Student Services in collaboration with SJI. Faculty members will be included in the selection committees for these fellowships and grants.
  • Careers: The Academic Scholars Program supporting students seeking careers in the legal academy will be overseen by the Careers in Law Teaching Committee. The Office of Judicial Clerkships will manage the clerkships pipeline program for students from underrepresented groups. Additional career-focused efforts will be coordinated by SJI and Office of Career Services, under the umbrella of the Associate Dean for Graduate Degrees, Executive Education, and Professional Advancement. In addition, SJI and the Public Interest/Public Service Lawyering Committee will work with the Dean’s Office to continue to investigate and address barriers to public interest careers confronting first-generation students and students of color. 
  • Historical Memory and Reckoning: The newly created Naming and Symbols Working Group will oversee the study of the Law School’s historical ties to slavery or other practices that warrant contemporary reexamination. This working group will further ensure that the ongoing diversification of portraiture in Jerome Greene Hall is carried forward. 

Once again, please join me in expressing my gratitude to the ARSC for its extensive and far-reaching work. I look forward to working together with faculty, students, staff, and alumni across our community to sustain the significant momentum we have set in motion this year.

Best regards,

Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law