UNC law officials promise look at diversity

The dean of the University of North Carolina law school has pledged to improve diversity after recent concerns about the school’s racial climate.

In an email to the law school community this week, Dean Martin Brinkley and Associate Dean of Student Affairs Kelly Smith announced a task force that will work on a long-term strategic plan to improve diversity and inclusion at the school, including efforts to recruit a diverse student body, faculty and staff.

Brinkley and Smith also promised a town hall meeting next semester and annual, anonymous surveys to gauge the social climate at the school. The task force will explore the possibility of diversity training for all and a new grievance process for complaints related to inclusion.

The initiatives were in response to a Nov. 20 letter signed by nearly 70 faculty, students and alumni, who complained about the law school’s general atmosphere for minority students. That letter also highlighted a specific incident at a recent roundtable discussion with Brinkley, in which a student implied that UNC law’s ranking had suffered because of “some diversity quota.” Administrators were slow to respond to the racially charged comment, the letter said.

The signers of the letter called for a diversity policy, mandatory training and tangible initiatives for diversifying the school’s population.

“It is not a rarity for students of color to be on the receiving end of callous assertions about earning a place at Carolina Law; it is an injustice that white students are not forced to encounter,” said the student, faculty and alumni letter. “Unfortunately, many students of color view these incidents as requisites for attending predominantly white institutions. These incidents of marginalization are rarely addressed in a genuine, open, and timely manner by many of those who bear witness to these occurrences, or become privy to them.”

The exchange of letters followed a national wave of campus protests around race and a heated town hall-style event at UNC, where demonstrators put forth a list of demands.

In their letter, Brinkley and Smith said more must be done to put UNC law school’s values into action.

“Your letter was a clear call to us to reaffirm, strengthen and expand our commitment to making Carolina Law a place where everyone can thrive,” the two administrators wrote. “We hear, understand and grieve that some members of our community do not feel fully included at our law school.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill