News - Capital University Law School

Diversity & Inclusion Discussions: Empowering Students to Be the Change

4/27/2021  - 

Against the backdrop of America’s growing racial divide following the death of George Floyd and the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Carson Tucker, L ’21, wanted to make sure Capital University Law School students had opportunities to make their voices heard. At the same time, Professor Jessica Branner Hittle was looking for resources to create a more inclusive environment in her legal research and writing courses.

They both turned to Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Marcelius Braxton.  Between the three of them the concept of Diversity and Inclusion Discussions was born. The discussions are a series of talks and events designed to bring the CapLaw community together in a safe forum to express their ideas and advance change.

“Often we say these words ‘inclusion’ and ‘equity’ and often they become meaningless,” Dean Braxton says. “It was something we had a passion about. We wanted to create something that had meaning. Often people say, ‘I’m interested, but what do I do?’”

The Diversity and Inclusion Discussions began in February via Zoom and have drawn an average of 25 students each session. Topics have included a recent book club-style format centered on “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” by Richard Rothstein. And, even as COVID-19 restrictions are rescinded, Dean Braxton says the meetings may continue on Zoom in order to reach a more inclusive audience.

Tucker, who intends to practice civil rights law, says it was a deliberate choice not to record the sessions because, “We wanted everyone to speak freely.”

“So many students weren’t aware of things happening around them,” Dean Braxton notes. “We have to be intentional about putting equity in place.” He says it’s important that students know that they have the power to effect change.

“Our goal is not just to talk about it,” Tucker says. “The next step is interdepartmental meetings with staff and students to look at policies and areas where Capital can improve and students can have impact. We’re pushing people into a situation where they feel empowered. We have proximity to law and a lot of opportunities to make change. There are a lot of marginalized groups who should be the driving factors for getting law degrees. We want them to think, ‘Not only can we do this, we should do this.’”

Professor Hittle says she is inspired because there has been so much interest from diverse groups of people to promote racial and gender equity and inclusion – basic rights that she believes should be integrated into every law school course. “You can’t not bump into these issues in every class you teach,” she says. “It’s about actively seeking out micro-aggressions. It’s not OK to do nothing anymore.”

Dean Braxton says the outcome of the discussions only will be effective if everyone – students, faculty and staff – operates as a collective.

“Oftentimes, these conversations don’t go anywhere,” he says. “This transition is thinking about things in a systemic way. There’s no such thing as neutrality. When you see wrong happen, you have an obligation to do something about it. Any wrong you see, as a person who wants to be a lawyer, you have to figure out how to act.”

If you would like more information on the Diversity and Inclusion Discussions, please contact Dean Braxton, Professor Hittle or Carson Tucker.