Today, the US Supreme Court issued an opinion that holds that Harvard College and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill violated the Equal Protection Clause in their use of race in their admissions processes. To say that we are disappointed by this decision is an understatement. The Court’s substantial narrowing of nearly 50 years of precedent is a grievous step backward, but it will not diminish our longstanding commitment to prepare “a diverse body of students for the ethical practice of law around the globe at the highest levels of quality and integrity.”
This commitment is part of our institutional DNA. More than 150 years ago, the founders of Boston University School of Law broke with this nation’s then widely accepted but unjust norms of racial segregation to welcome students of all races, genders, and religions. Precisely because of our founders’ commitment to diversity, BU Law has produced an impressive roster of alumni, diverse across many dimensions, who have literally changed the course of history.
Take, for example, Willard Brown from the Classes of 1935 (LLB) and 1936 (LLM). Brown attended BU Law in part because he was not permitted to attend the law school in his home state of West Virginia. Rather than desegregate its own law school, the state of West Virginia chose instead to pay Brown’s tuition to attend BU Law, only to see him return after graduation and bring lawsuit after lawsuit that dismantled racial segregation within its borders. Or, consider Barbara Jordan, from the Class of 1959, who became the first woman elected to the Texas State Senate and the first Black woman from the deep South to be elected to the US House of Representatives. Representative Jordan sponsored measures that established the first minimum-wage law in Texas as well as the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission. Moreover, her demonstrated commitment to the US Constitution during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon helped to restore the public’s faith in our nation’s democracy.
Consider, as well, Clarence Jones, also from the Class of 1959, who served as a political adviser, personal attorney, and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (also an alumnus of Boston University). Jones smuggled notes out of Dr. King’s cell in Birmingham, Alabama, to distribute “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the public. He helped successfully represent Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the case of NY Times v. Sullivan, which protected the First Amendment rights of everyday people by limiting the ability of US public officials to sue for defamation, which in turn made it difficult for powerful public figures to use defamation lawsuits to intimidate and silence their critics. And Jones helped pen Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech to inspire a nation to live up to its values of liberty and justice for all.
Boston University School of Law was at the forefront of racial equality more than 150 years ago when it was founded. Today, we affirm our commitment to racial integration and to an institutional environment in which every student feels welcomed and in which every student can thrive.
Finally, think now about both Abby Rubenfeld and John Ward from the Classes of 1979 and 1976, respectively. Rubenfeld represented the Tennessee plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, and Ward, Boston’s first openly gay male attorney, founded Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD, now known as GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders) and was the first openly gay man to argue a case before the US Supreme Court.
These are just a few of BU Law’s trailblazers, people whose racial backgrounds or sexuality may have kept them out of some other law schools at the time, but whom BU Law admitted. Each of these lawyers arrived at our hallowed halls with their own experiences and stories, all of which enriched the learning environment at BU Law for both students and faculty. Each of these individuals, among many of our graduates, made our nation—and our world—more prosperous and egalitarian.
Although the Court’s decision in SFFA v. Harvard/ UNC fails to appreciate the pedagogical and societal values of diversity, BU Law will continue to promote these core values. Consistent with the law, BU Law will continue to urge students from a range of backgrounds to apply to the law school and will continue to send a clear message that they are welcomed here. Nothing in SFFA prevents us from pursuing the excellence manifested in the experiences of our students. Accordingly, we will encourage students to employ their freedom of expression to articulate their life stories—including those narratives that intersect with race—in ways that capture and do not compromise important dimensions of who they are.
We have no intention of rolling the clock backwards vis-à-vis our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Boston University School of Law was at the forefront of racial equality more than 150 years ago when it was founded. Today, we affirm our commitment to racial integration and to an institutional environment in which every student feels welcomed and in which every student can thrive.