Columbia Law as an Anti-Racist Institution


Dean Lester provides an update on the Law School's efforts to advance a school-wide anti-racist mobilization and redouble our commitment to social and racial justice.

Dear members of the Columbia Law School Community, 

Over the past several months, we have been plagued by two pandemics—one the global health emergency brought on by the novel coronavirus and the other the multi-generational scourge of structural racism on our common humanity. These crises have tested our spirit and exposed longstanding and deeply rooted divisions within our country and its societal institutions. 

As I noted in my year-end message in June, the recent incidents of police violence, including the murder of George Floyd, as well as other racially motivated killings, have ignited a national movement to affirm the value of Black lives and to take up the cause of anti-racism, both as individuals and as a polity. 

All of us at Columbia Law School must do the hard and difficult work required to think and learn in new ways about how racial hierarchy has shaped and, for many of us, advantaged our lives. We must listen to those whose lived experiences reflect the longstanding struggle for racial equality, while not relying exclusively on them to educate us. This work will be difficult. It will demand that we resist our most comfortable ways of thinking and doing things. But this is work we need to do, and we need to do it now. 

Today, I write to provide an update on the work we have begun to advance a school-wide anti-racist mobilization and redouble our commitment to social and racial justice. I ask for the continued engagement and participation of our entire community in this important process. 

Last week, I convened a faculty-wide discussion in which I asked faculty to take up the collective responsibility to identify and understand the presence of structural racism within the Law School and commit to working together to combat it through concrete policies and actions. Specifically, I asked faculty to respond to the following questions:

  • What would Columbia Law School look like if it were an anti-racist institution?

  • What can our faculty do together to unlearn racism and deepen our understanding of the structures of racism?

  • What concrete things are we willing to change at Columbia Law School to combat structural racism and how can we be leaders in the profession and the community?

This conversation was just an initial step. We are committed to a broad, community-wide process through which we will take up the cause of anti-racism at Columbia Law School. To accomplish this, I have asked Vice Dean David Pozen to lead a new Anti-Racism Steering Committee, reporting to me, which will coordinate faculty, student, and staff engagement around several clusters of strategic focus:

  • Curriculum and pedagogy

  • Structural racism learning community (e.g., reading and discussion groups, events, programming, and trainings)

  • Entry into and advancement within academic careers

  • Research and scholarship, including about Columbia Law School’s history

  • Community engagement, with a focus on Harlem

I anticipate broad participation from our faculty and administrators, as well as active engagement with students and alumni. This work is critically important for us, not only as an institution, but in our role as leaders in the academy and in educating the future profession. And I will ask all of us who are involved to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and choices as we commit to a more just and equitable future. 

Thank you to those of you who have participated in discussions, conveyed feedback, written to me with ideas, and otherwise conveyed your commitment and solidarity. I look forward to the work we will do together, and welcome your continued input. 

Best regards,

Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law