AUWCL Hosts Largest Gathering of Minority Legal Scholars in History at Fourth National People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference
March 28, 2019
Thursday, March 21 through Sunday, March 24, American University Washington College of Law welcomed 600 law professors, scholars, activists, and students from across the globe to its Washington, D.C. campus for the Fourth National People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference (NPOC19).
The largest gathering of minority legal scholars in history
The largest gathering of legal scholars of color in U.S. history, NPOC19 included more than 110 conference events featuring over 350 speakers. The conference also included keynote and plenary discussions with some of the most prominent and influential figures in today’s fight for civil rights, equity, and justice, including President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill and President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Vanita Gupta.
“We were thrilled to welcome a large and diverse community of scholars to participate in NPOC19,” said AUWCL Dean Camille Nelson, a professor of law with expertise in the criminal justice system and the intersection of critical race theory and cultural studies, who in 2016 became AUWCL’s first woman of color to be appointed Dean of American University Washington College of Law. “The conference offered myriad sessions and gatherings to address the most compelling issues of scholarly and social interest to communities of color around the world.”
Thirty-six law schools – along with other key supporters including LSAC, LSSSE, Carolina Academic Press, and the U.S. Department of Justice – joined AUWCL in sponsorship of this timely and important conference, which also included works-in-progress and thoughts-in-progress workshops and an extensive pipeline track dedicated to providing advice, encouragement, and mentoring to pretenure professors and law faculty aspirants. Ten law reviews and journals from American University, Columbia University, George Washington University, Harvard University, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Association of American Law School's Journal of Legal Education served as publishing partners for NPOC19 and will be publishing the conference proceedings and papers presented at the conference.
people of color and the future of democracy
During the opening conference reception Thursday, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), chair of the House Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Oversight Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, used his welcoming remarks to touch upon the conference’s overarching premise.
“The theme of this weekend is well chosen; it’s critical, it’s urgent, it’s important. ‘People of Color and the Future of Democracy’ – the future of democracy is the question on everybody’s minds,” Raskin said.
Democracy, equality, and inclusion, and how these issues relate to the experiences of people of color, were the basis of the many dozens of panels held throughout the 4-day conference. Discussion topics ranged from affirmative action and healthcare disparity, to immigration and LGBTQ rights and the criminal justice system’s relationship with communities of color. A number of distinguished AUWCL faculty experts moderated panels and discussions throughout the conference, including Professor Jeremi Duru, one of the nation’s foremost sports law authorities.
During her opening remarks for NPOC19’s plenary keynote Friday, featuring addresses from lawyer and Gold Star Father Khizr Khan and UCLA Professor and Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Jerry Kang, American University President and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell said hosting such a conference is crucial for understanding that equal rights within diversity and injustice is not a single-generation fight.
“It’s a continual process and it’s a journey – a journey that leads to a stronger community and a stronger nation,” Burwell said, noting that “inclusion is not a product of excellence, but instead, achieving excellence actually requires inclusion.”
Khan called NPOC19 attendees, “the candle bearers in this darkest moment of history.”
“You are going to write the second chapter of our civil rights movement, each and every one of you. It depends on you – not only the future of his nation, but mankind,” Khan said.
Friday evening’s gala dinner featured a keynote conversation featuring Gupta, Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Hon. Catherine Lhamon, and MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas Saenz.
'We have to work as hard as we can'
The following day, Vicki C. Jackson, president of the Association of American Law Schools and Thurgood Marshall Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, opened up the third major plenary keynote event, “Race and Racism in America.” The keynote conversation, moderated by AUWCL Professor Angela J. Davis, editor of Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution and Imprisonment, featured Ifill and American University Professor and National Book Award Winner Ibram Kendi, with additional remarks from AUWCL Professor Ezra Rosser.
“How is it that the conversation of white supremacy [and democratic crisis] starts after Charlottesville, but we’ve had legislatures across the country for years that have suppressed people's voting rights?” Ifill asked.
“Our singular historical memory of racial progress is undeniable,” Kendi said of writing a book in the time of the first black president and heightened police violence. “But racist progression and policies are not going away, and will find new ways to suppress.”
Ifill told the crowd of more than 300 in Grossman Hall it is crucial to recognize the scope of the problem, before we can move forward.
“We need to understand we are a part of a global xenophobic movement,” she said. “Are we paying enough attention to our leaders and these global connections that are extremely dangerous? It’s not just going to go away in 2020 – We have to work as hard as we can.”
Watch video of Saturday's keynote conversation here.
AUWCL Professor Tony Varona chaired the Host/Planning Committee for the conference and co-chaired its National Steering Council with Dean Adrien Wing from the University of Iowa College of Law.
“It has been a great honor to serve as the planning chair for NPOC19,” Varona said. “The conference’s success is the result of two years of hard work, creativity, and dedication by AUWCL faculty and staff colleagues across the law school, AUWCL students, and our 25 colleagues from law schools throughout the nation on the NPOC19 National Advisory Committee. Together, we planned a conference designed to feed the mind, heart, and soul of a large community of scholars that, at this moment especially, yearn for fellowship, connection, and encouragement.”