During the second week of September, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law faculty and the Office of Inclusion & Engagement hosted its first-ever Northwestern Law Racial Justice Virtual Teach-In.
The two-day virtual conference was a part of a national movement among academics to protest police violence and racism. Anthea Butler, associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, called for higher education institutions to help raise awareness of and prompt action against racism, policing, and mass incarceration throughout the United States. She joined forces with Kevin Gannon, professor of history at the Grand View University in Iowa, to encourage America’s top college and university faculties to host their own learning sessions, calling the movement the #ScholarStrike.
Northwestern Pritzker Law faculty led synchronous teaching sessions on racial justice topics, curated reading materials and offered recorded lectures. “I am happy to say that the Law School’s racial justice virtual teach-in was a success!” said Shannon Bartlett, associate dean of inclusion and engagement at the Law School. “Our ability to put the event together in a short timeframe speaks volumes to the hard work our faculty has put in over the last few months to reflect upon the ways in which race touches upon their areas of research and study.”
The pre-recorded sessions included talks by Daniel Rodriguez, Harold Washington Professor of Law; Emily Kadens, professor of law; Paul Gowder, professor of law; and more. The topics ranged from “Roman Law’s Influence on American Slavery” to “Race & Bankruptcy Law.” Sheila Bedi, clinical professor of law; Deborah Tuerkheimer, Class of 1940 Research Professor of Law, and Clifford Zimmerman, professor of practice, were just some of the faculty who hosted live virtual sessions on topics including “Civil Rights, Policing, & Protest,” “Criminal Justice and the Mattering of Lives, and “American Indian Law: Racism, Genocide & Inequality.”
On the last day of the event, Andrea Lewis Hartung, clinical assistant professor for the Center for Wrongful Convictions, led a live session on “The Intersection of Race and Wrongful Convictions.” She cited both statistics and her own experiences, and discussed the fact that wrongfully convicted black defendants spend more time behind bars before being exonerated. Lewis Hartung began her talk by discussing a client who is currently serving time in prison despite vehemently defending his innocence. “I was talking with him and he had been watching the news shortly after the George Floyd murder and he said something to me that has stuck with me every day,” she said. “And that was ‘I’m watching the news, I’m looking at all these protests and everybody saying Black Lives Matter, but nobody thinks my life matters,’ and my client is a Black man.” She explained that police brutality and injustice happen to Black and brown people on a consistent basis, and just because it’s not caught on video doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
On that same day, members of the Children & Family Justice Center hosted a live session on “Race, Criminal Law, and Juvenile Justice.” Shobha Mahadev, clinical associate professor of law; Alison Flaum, clinical professor of law and legal director of the center; and clinical fellow Lydette Assefa, discussed the issues that affect youth of color in the prison system, including children being tried as adults, Black children being criminalized in the school system, and the issue of school resource officers throughout CPS. They rounded out the 30-minute talk with a quick Q&A with the virtual audience.
In addition to the video sessions, the teach-in’s Canvas site included reading materials, many citing specific cases, to help guide viewers throughout the teach-ins. Bartlett hopes the event helps people realize the close relationship between race and law. “The ultimate goal of the event was to help members of the community understand that race and equity concerns pervade the law in its entirety, and the event highlighted that message well,” she said. “I learned much during the event, and I am particularly grateful to faculty members Peter DiCola, Paul Gowder, Sarah Lawsky, Daniel Rodriguez, and Robin Walker Sterling for mobilizing their fellow faculty members around the event.”
Bartlett hopes the teach-ins evolve into an annual event, reminding the community to “keep front and center the ways in which law simultaneously may further and undermine equality and social justice.”