Northwestern University hosted DREAM Week in January, celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Chicago Campus slate of programming was curated by Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Northwestern University.
The annual University-wide event week kicked off with its Keynote Address, featuring Mariame Kaba, a prison abolitionist organizer, educator, curator and Northwestern University alum. Kaba is the founder of several organizations throughout the Chicagoland area, including Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, and Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT).
The Chicago Campus Oratorical Contest, hosted by the Law School, was moderated by Shannon Bartlett, associate dean of inclusion and engagement. The finalists wrote essays centered around the Dr. King quote, “Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” For the first time, Northwestern staff were encouraged to participate in the contest. Hope Rehak, executive assistant to Interim Dean James Speta, won the staff portion, while Brigid Carmichael (JD ’22), Nikita Saladi (MD ’21), and Varun Lella (JD ’22) won the student portion, in first, second and third place respectively.
The theme of America’s hidden sins continued into the Northwestern Pritzker Law and Feinberg School of Medicine faculty and alumni panel, “Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere: The Impact of Systemic Racism in Law and Medicine.” Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law Robin Walker Sterling, associate dean for clinical education and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, was joined by Northwestern alum Kendrick Washington (JD ’10); Dr. Muriel Jean-Jacques, assistant professor of medicine and the department of medicine’s vice chair for diversity, equity and inclusion; and Dr. Ronke Pederson, instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. During the hour-long discussion, panelists discussed how institutionalized racism affects many aspects of American life, including the medical field and justice system. “The struggle has been the profound lack of imagination in respect to how Black people and people of color might change what it means to be a lawyer, or what legal practice looks like,” Walker Sterling said. “Anytime I went into court [as a public defender], there was always the assumption when I walked in that I was the defendant or the defendant’s girlfriend—as I got older, the defendant’s mother. To be clear I’m not saying that’s shameful, what I’m saying is that the problem is there wasn’t room for the assumption to be that I’m the lawyer. That wears on you.”
To finish off the week of events, Sheila Bedi, professor of law, and Andrea Lewis Hartung, clinical assistant professor of law, participated in a panel discussing the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Together with Barnor Hesse, associate professor of African American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology, they delved into the violent events and called out the stark difference in how Black and white communities are policed and governed. “What we were seeing across our TV and computer screens was the realities of white violence, and the ways in which white violence has been central to the American experiment, to the lives of Black and brown people in this country, and in the ways the criminal and legal system has never had an effective holistic response to white violence. Because that’s not what the system has evolved to respond to,” Bedi said. “One of the things we saw [during the Capitol riots] are the ways in which police instinctively know how to police in a way that respects the sanctity of life. We don’t have a training issue with policing, we have a selective application issue. This commitment to doing no harm, this commitment to respecting life over property needs to apply regardless of the race of the folks. The reality is that demand is not a realistic one because the very nature of policing is interwoven with white supremacy.”