The CEO of Equal Justice Works and former dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, Verna Williams, gave the 65th annual John R. Coen Lecture in the Wolf Law Building on Sept. 28. In her lecture, “Let’s Talk About Race,” Williams discussed diversity issues facing the nation, such as book bans and restrictions on affirmative action.
Williams said she advocates for people to “stare unblinkingly” at the systemic racism Americans face.
“These are signs that we need to re-engage with our communities,” she said. “We need to speak our truth about what we want.”
Williams discussed disparities in education for minority groups in the United States. The nonprofit she leads, Equal Justice Works, helps law students find public interest opportunities and addresses the legal needs of underserved populations.
“Our community is committed to the ideal of equal justice,” she said.
Williams talked about the organization’s future plans to create a racial justice program and a pipeline program to get more students from various racial and ethnic backgrounds involved in law.
Williams’ lecture follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and SFFA v. University of Northern Carolina. The Supreme Court ruled that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, meaning universities can no longer follow race-conscious admissions policies.
In light of the court’s decision, the University of Colorado Boulder can no longer proceed with race-conscious admissions procedures.
Williams explained how it’s not just affirmative action that lawmakers are going after, but also Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs in schools and workplaces. She said the programs are incredibly necessary.
“Diverse bodies make better decisions,” she said.
CU Boulder’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s IDEA council is responsible for collecting data regarding diversity on campus and determining how to implement its findings. In 2022, the Impact Grant program was created in order to further current and future DEI efforts at CU Boulder.
CU Boulder stated its commitment to diversity in June in a statement from Chancellor Phil DiStefano saying, “the University of Colorado Boulder remains resolute in its commitment to the advancement of students of all races and backgrounds because we know a diverse campus strengthens our mission and our democratic society.”
Going forward, the university said it will continue to develop strategies that promote equity for students, including building on support services and recruiting students from minority backgrounds.
“[The Supreme Court’s] decision recognizes that universities may still consider the unique experiences of individual students, which might include how race has affected the applicant’s life,” wrote DiStefano.
CU Boulder law student Hannah Loiselle said she was grateful for the experience.
“I’m really glad CU brings in programs like this,” she said. “It really grounds you in why you want to go to law school.”
Contact CU Independent staff writer Greta Kerkhoff at Greta.Kerkhoff@colorado.edu.