Diversity Committee Memorandum


To:                    USF School of Law Community Members

From:               Grace Hum, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs

Date:               November 28, 2016

Re:                   Update on the School of Law Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Advisory Community


The purpose of this memo is to provide an update on the School of Law Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Advisory Committee.  Dean Trasviña has asked me to co-chair this committee, so I am serving as the administrative lead on this effort.  This memo provides some background information and a proposed plan for the committee to convene in January 2017. 

1.  Background

The Black Law Students Association (“BLSA”) organized an event on April 18, 2016, entitled “Black Minds Matter.”  The event included three students and two alums that recounted their experiences at the law school and in the legal profession.  In response to the presenters, Dean Trasviña announced his commitment to formally addressing their concerns.  Afterwards, BLSA drafted and submitted a letter that included specific issues (many of which were discussed during the Black Minds Matter event), as well as a proposal to create a diversity, inclusion, and equity committee that would meet regularly and comprise members of our community.  To read the proposal, please follow this link.

On May 3, 2016, the law school administration met with the BLSA representatives who initiated this effort to discuss our next steps.  We discussed the proposed committee and agreed that the charge of the committee would be to:

  • discuss the issues that were raised in BLSA’s initial proposal;
  • gather feedback and information;
  • provide advice, recommendations, and perspective; and
  • promote collaboration among students, faculty, and administration on diversity and inclusion issues.
  • A number of law student organizations, including If/When/How:  Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, Women’s Law Association, USF National Lawyers Guild, Business Law Association, La Raza Students Association, Middle East Law Student Association, and USF Immigration Law Society, have submitted letters to support BLSA’s efforts to foster a greater sense of diversity and inclusion at the law school.

    The La Raza Law Student Association also added its voice to the conversation about inclusion and equity when it wrote an open letter to the SBA and published it publicly in spring 2016.  The letter was re-published on Above the Law along with an article.  To read the letter, the article, and the SBA’s response to La Raza’s letter, please follow this link.  Dean Trasviña and I met with the La Raza student leaders to discuss the contents of their letter, answer questions, and clarify information.

    2.  Formulating the Committee

    Over the course of the summer, I communicated with the BLSA representatives who initiated this effort about the make-up of the committee in terms of faculty, staff, and student representation, as well as who should co-chair the committee with me.  The Dean appointed the following faculty and staff members to the committee because of their demonstrated commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, and their presence in offices directly serving students:  Cometria Cooper, Associate Director of Career Planning; Bill Hing, Professor of Law; Heidi Ho, Assistant Director of the Academic Support Program; Rhonda Magee, Professor of Law; and Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, Vice Provost of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach. 

    Dean Trasviña and I met with the BLSA representatives who initiated this effort on October 21, 2016, to finalize the formulation of this committee.  At this meeting, we also received a supplemental “Proposal to Compose the Committee with Student-Motivated Individuals and Terms.”  To read the supplemental proposal, please follow this link.

    During our meeting, the BLSA representatives advocated that the other co-chair be a faculty member for a number of reasons:  they feel comfortable with faculty members expressing student views; the security of a tenured position permits frank discussion; and the institutional memory of a faculty member is critical to creating lasting change.  Dean Trasviña and I stated that the other co-chair should be a student because that would elevate the student voice in the leadership of the committee and the development of recommendations.  The Dean and I proposed a compromise:  once the committee convenes, it can decide upon the other co-chair.  

    To determine student representation on this committee, I facilitated two different meetings with students:  one on November 2 and one on November 7.  During the first meeting, I met with our Student Senate, which is comprised of one student leader from each of our 28 student organizations.  At the suggestion of students at the first meeting, I convened a second meeting and invited the entire student body.  Approximately 15 students attended this meeting.  During both of these meetings, I asked the following questions about student representation:

  • How many students should be on this committee?
  • What is the appropriate representative capacity of these student members?
  • What is the length of service for these student representatives?
  • What is the process for nomination and selection?
  • I facilitated robust conversations with our students in both of these meetings.  Students were engaged and thoughtful and suggested a variety of ideas regarding appropriate student representation.  Below is a summary of their suggestions.

  • Number of student representatives:  students suggested two, five, six, or seven student representatives.  
  • Representative capacity:  students suggested that the representatives be from the SBA, student organization leaders, class years, or the student body at-large.  There were suggestions about mixed representation (e.g., some SBA representatives and some student organization leaders) and monolithic representation (e.g., representatives by class year). 
  • Length of service:  students suggested that students attend meetings on a rotating basis, for a semester, for an academic year, or for two-year terms with the first year serving as a shadow year. 
  • Nomination and selection process:  students suggested that there be a nomination and application process where the faculty and staff committee members select the students, a vote by the Student Senate, or a vote by the student body.  Ultimately, students expressed serious concern that a voting process among the students would not actually yield the most qualified and committed student representatives.
  • 3.  Convening the Committee in January 2017

    Although students had many terrific proposals about determining the appropriate number of students; the representative capacity of the students; the length of committee service; and the process for nomination and selection, it was clear that reaching a consensus on these issues would be difficult given the diverse viewpoints.  Additionally, the timing of these meetings and the ability to decide upon student representation so close to the end of the fall semester also presented significant challenges. 

    Given these challenges, one student suggested that we move forward and start convening the committee at the beginning of next semester using an interim model.  We could meet with the faculty and staff that have already been appointed and structure these meetings as open to the entire student community so that all interested students could attend.  This would provide the students more time and opportunity to decide upon the student representation.  It would also provide more time and opportunity to determine whether the co-chair should be a faculty member or a student.  I propose that we move forward using this model for spring 2017. 

    If you have questions or comments about this memo or want more information about the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Advisory Committee, please contact me at ghum@usfca.edu.