UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law Black Law Students Association (BLSA), in partnership with the Student Bar Association (SBA), organized a series of online events on June 4 in response to the recent killings of George Floyd and many other Black Americans. Members of the entire Penn State Law community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and family members—attended the events, which aimed at amplifying Black voices and providing healing, support, and solidarity.
The day began with a vigil on Zoom that lasted 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time that officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck—and played a slideshow featuring all of the recent victims. Participants were asked to either turn their cameras off or to replace their profile image with a candlelight image.
In the evening, BLSA and SBA hosted, “Say Their Names: A Conversation Addressing Racially Motivated Murder in America.” The focus of the panel was to amplify Black voices from across the Penn State Law community and included members of BLSA, current faculty, and family members of current students who are current or retired police officers. The panelists shared their experiences and sparked conversations with participants about the recent protests, race relations within Penn State Law and beyond, and active ways for allies to give and show support.
The series concluded with a watch party for 13th, a documentary on racial inequality and the U.S. prison system.
“I do feel like the events were a success [and] we got overwhelmingly positive feedback from professors and students,” said Tyla Swinton, president of BLSA and a rising 3L at Penn State Law.
“We were trying to figure out events that would bring the most engagement because if no one is listening, there is really no point in hosting them,” added Swinton. “So we wanted to make sure that they were appealing to the student body and the faculty to make sure that they would want to come and be ready to hear what we have to say and learn from our experiences.”
After listening to Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni and hearing their experiences, concerns, and insights, Penn State Law developed concrete action steps in collaboration with the BLSA and SBA leaders. The action steps focus on the areas of messaging and communication; training, transparency, and accountability; curriculum; and student inclusion and support.
“The BLSA and SBA leadership, Dean Ferguson, Dean Purvis, Professor Wadhia, the Diversity Committee, and other student, faculty, staff, and alumni leaders have helped us create an action plan from what we’ve heard in our listening sessions,” said Dean Osofsky. “Penn State Law is committed to these steps and more as we move toward allyship and amplifying voices.”
Penn State Law is making progress on each of these steps. Among other efforts, it has established a new Concentration in Race, Law, and Equity and is developing new courses and adding to existing courses opportunities for meaningful engagement with the interface of law, race, and social justice, including ones that provide opportunities for pro bono work on police accountability. It is developing new web resources on antiracism and reworking its orientation. Over 500 alumni, faculty, staff, and students signed a Statement of Penn State Law and School of International Affairs Community Against Racism.
“We welcome feedback and will continue to listen and refine these action steps over time,” Dean Osofsky said. “We are committed to an inclusive, welcoming environment and to actively working on antiracism and on addressing racist violence, police brutality, and racial profiling.”