This letter was written by the VLS Affinity Groups
While starting law school in the middle of times as uncertain as these is no easy feat for anyone, we recognize the extra strife that may be accompanying students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) following a summer such as this. Vernice Miller Travis, one of the Hot Topics in Environmental Law lecturers this summer, reminded us that we are not just facing the COVID-19 pandemic—we are in the middle of a syndemic because there are multiple forces working together to target already vulnerable communities.
We have witnessed all summer the ways that the healthcare system, the criminal justice system, the food justice system, and so many others are plagued with inequities. We’ve seen articles about the disproportionate impacts and mortality rates in BIPOC communities as a result of these inequities. We’ve been confined to our homes in order to keep others safe, but it has also drawn national attention to some of the deepest untreated scars our country faces.
BIPOC communities predominate the essential workforce, which exacerbates the risks and mortality rates from this pandemic. Domestic essential workers are one of the largest, non-unionized labor forces in this country, which is a direct carryover from slavery. After Emancipation when Black Americans were allowed to enter the paid workforce, many resorted to domestic jobs, which remain un-unionized to limited access and rights. Undocumented farmworkers are the backbone of our nation’s agricultural system, yet they are working in hazardous conditions with minimal breaks and even less rights. It seems like every single day there’s another reason why we need to turn our heads to the seemingly insurmountable task of working towards a more just country.
And yet here you are, almost halfway through your first semester of law school during one of the most trying times in recent history. We see you, we appreciate you, and we thank you for the incredible contributions you will make to this school community and this world. As a BIPOC student entering law school, you have already beat incredible odds. National statistics indicate that in 2019, 85% of the attorneys in this country were white, though the white race makes up 77% of the national population. 5% of lawyers identify as Black, 5% are Hispanic, and 3% of lawyers in this nation identify as Asian. You have a few years before you can join those ranks, and during the time in between when you’re in law school, there may be challenges that are specifically unique to the BIPOC experience, especially at a law school in the second whitest state in the nation. Just know that there are individuals, groups, faculty, and administration here at VLS willing to help and support you with whatever you need.
On September 4th, the Executive Office of Management and Budget released a memorandum addressed to the heads of Executive departments and Agencies prohibiting them from wasting anymore money on trainings on “‘critical race theory’, ‘white privilege’, or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.” The President of the United States believes training that helps federal agency heads and employees address their biases, understand systemic racism, and move forward to help create a more unified nation by addressing systemic harm is “anti-American”.
This is what we’re working against. It is up to all of us to hold ourselves and hold our peers accountable. Vermont Law School has been holding panels on Embedded Racism in the Law all summer, and the most recent panel discussion was on Implicit Bias. It provides helpful context for where implicit bias derives, tips for non-BIPOC folks to intervene when they witness an instance of bias or microaggressions directed towards a marginalized group, and provides a framework for the ways in which the legal profession limits the ability for more BIPOC to take part.
So again, we see you, and we’re excited you’re here. You belong in law school, and you will make great change. Thank you for joining our community.
The Vermont Law School Affinity Groups:
Asian/Pacific American Law Student Association
Black Law Student Association
Latin American (and Caribbean) Law Student Association
Native American Law Student Association