Message to Alumni
(June 3, 2020)
Dear Alumni and Friends,
This is a weary, sad, and traumatic time for our community, city, and nation.
Last week, New York Law School strongly condemned the killing of George Floyd, and countless other unarmed Black men and women, at the hands of the police. In doing so, we rejected racism and embraced the fundamental values of equality and human dignity. And, over the past several days, our students, faculty, and staff have tried to process and respond to the senseless killing of Mr. Floyd, along with the quiet rampage of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged communities of color across our nation. Many of us are angry, tired, and already stretched thin. But we are also motivated to create change.
As a law school and lawyers in the United States of America, we have both the privilege and duty to take action. That means building consensus and alliances to make change, and ensuring that accountability for those changes does not rest with any one person or community, but with all of us. We call on all of you to stand up with us in this fight.
Sadly, what happened over the course of 8 minutes and 46 seconds one week ago was not an isolated incident, nor was it the start or end of racial injustice. The actions that led to the killing of George Floyd, and many others, and the peaceful protests that have erupted into far more, speak to how we as a nation have failed to address structural racism. And the pandemic itself has further added to the pressure and pain.
On Monday, students, faculty, and staff gathered for an online dialogue for more than two hours. They shared powerful personal reflections and recommended ways for our community of lawyers and future lawyers to become a more powerful force against systemic racism and violence. Following the conversation, our Impact Center for Public Interest Law published the Take Action and Summer Reading Guide for alumni and students seeking additional resources.
While NYLS continues to chip away at the entrenched problem of racism through our Racial Justice Project, academic centers, and legal clinics, we understand the power and promise that every aspect of our curriculum and alumni programming holds to serve as vehicles for change. And, we are looking for new ways to engage even more students and alumni to those ends.
I have also assembled a core faculty and administrative team to work this summer with colleagues and student leaders to update our 2016 Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Plan, align it fully with our new 2020 Strategic Plan, and ensure that it is the very first action item adopted by our faculty and Board of Trustees before the fall semester begins. I am charging every member of our faculty and staff with being accountable for ensuring that the Plan’s updated priorities are thoughtfully implemented throughout the School’s curriculum, programs, and operations. And I want every faculty member, staff member, and student to engage with one another in a manner that is consistent with the Plan’s values and goals. If you have ideas for how we can maximize the opportunities presented in any of NYLS’s plans, I welcome them.
Indeed, I know that many of you are actively and boldly engaged in improving your communities. I am very proud of your efforts. Let us rededicate ourselves—particularly those among us who come from positions of privilege—to using our legal skills to create a more just and equitable world.
Message to Community Members
(May 29, 2020)
Dear NYLS Community,
Last night, we gathered to celebrate our Class of 2020. It was a joyful moment in what has been a painful season and a particularly difficult week.
Minnesota is burning. New York had its latest struggle with racism earlier this week. Our country is hurting. And many of us are angry right now.
Angry because George Floyd’s horrific death is a far too common occurrence. Angry because we now add his name to a long list of unarmed Black Americans who died during a police interaction. Angry because COVID-19 is already disproportionately affecting communities of color.
I know that many in our community feel weary right now.
I join you in this reaction, and, like many of you, I am still processing what happened. I come from a family of deeply committed public servants. My father is a retired New Jersey State Trooper, now in his 80s and living in Florida. We spoke extensively about this week’s events, and he was, like me, outraged at the death of George Floyd and disgusted by the actions of the Minneapolis police. It goes without saying that what George Floyd experienced was, first and foremost, an assault on him, his family, and all people of color. But the actions of the responding officers have also weakened the important trust between law enforcement and the greater community—a trust that is needed for us to have healthy and sustainable communities where equality and justice are core values.
This is a moment when our whole community can come together and reflect.
I invite you to join me Monday at 6:00 p.m. for a special dialogue co-hosted by me and Professor Alvin Bragg, Racial Justice Project Co-Director.
Meanwhile, the advocacy work of our centers, clinics, and programs must continue. Last year, Professor Bragg and the Racial Justice Project joined the family of Eric Garner and police accountability advocates in a lawsuit seeking more details about Mr. Garner’s death and the disciplinary proceedings that followed. This is one example among many of how the NYLS community is working to chip away at the entrenched racism in our country. This School’s commitment to doing so remains true and consistent, always.
Finally, I invite you to read today’s Daily News op-ed by Professor Kirk Burkhalter ’04. In making the case for an immediate arrest in the Floyd case (which has since been made), Professor Burkhalter captures the critical perspective that lawyers can bring when it comes to advocating for change in how justice is delivered and communities are served.
I hope to see you on Monday.