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UC Davis Law’s Racial Justice Speaker Series Concludes Inaugural Year

News Posted on April 16, 2021

UC Davis School of Law’s 2020-21 Racial Justice Speaker Series concluded on April 7 with a powerful presentation titled “‘Citizenism’ and the Shackles of Borders” by Professor Raquel Aldana. In her talk, Aldana critically analyzed contemporary immigration law and policy and pushed for humanitarian treatment of immigrants.

Last fall, the law school began the Racial Justice Speaker Series “to talk about systemic racial injustice in the United States after seeing a series of women and men killed by police,” Dean Kevin R. Johnson told a Zoom audience of more than 100 people gathered for Aldana’s talk. “Over the course of the year, we had an opportunity to hear from critical race theory scholars, public defenders and others on their views about systemic injustice and possible avenues for reform and change.” He added that in light of the social justice consciousness of the students and alumni, the many critical race scholars on the law faculty, and the law school’s Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies, he was not surprised that hundreds of alumni, faculty, students, staff and community members attended the series.

Over 11 lectures, the 2020-21 installment of the series featured speakers from across the country, including Johnson’s fellow law school Deans Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Boston University) and L. Song Richardson (UC Irvine), who are civil rights scholars and activists.

While systemic racial injustice in the criminal justice system and the police killing of George Floyd led to the protests in summer 2020, the Racial Justice Speaker Series was not limited to analyzing racial injustice in the criminal justice system. Over the course of the first year, speakers looked at racial injustice in family law, corporate governance, immigration, discrimination and hate crimes, and related topics in addition to criminal law. Speakers in the series also focused on the subordination of Asian Americans and Latinx people as well as African Americans, making clear that many racial groups are engaging in the contemporary struggle for civil rights.

Aldana was one of a trio of King Hall faculty members to speak in the series. In November, Professor Irene Joe, a former New Orleans public defender, gave a presentation titled “When Public Defenders Fall Short.” On March 31, Professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin responded to the March killings of eight people in Atlanta – including six women of Asian descent – with a talk recounting the legal history of discrimination and violence against persons of Asian ancestry in the United States, from Chinese exclusion in the 1800s, to Japanese internment during World War II, to hate crimes against Asians today.

After a highly successful inaugural year that drew as many as 400 people per talk, the series will return next year as a permanent part of the law school’s annual calendar. “A sustained discussion of racial injustice is what our community – indeed, our nation – needs,” Johnson said. “I am proud that we will continue to further the conversation and explore possible solutions to the stunning racial inequalities that have persisted too long in the United States.”

Aldana, whose scholarship focuses on transitional justice, criminal justice reforms, sustainable development in Latin America, and immigration and human rights, began her talk by commending Johnson for creating a “visionary” speaker series. “I have left feeling quite inspired” by previous lectures, she said.

Aldana’s talk addressed the “punitive and racialized” enforcement of borders and the concept of “citizenism,” the view that U.S. citizenship is central to the distribution of rights. “Any racial justice project must embrace the dismantling of ‘citizenism’ as central to the transformation of the U.S. into a more just nation,” Aldana said.

Aldana traced the likely fate of the asylum-seeking mother of the crying Honduran toddler from the indelible 2018 Getty photo that came to symbolize the deeply disturbing inhumanity of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

“We cannot see her face in this picture, but we should be forced to see her humanity,” Aldana said of the mother.

The Davis Vanguard covered Aldana's presentation. Read the story.

The Racial Justice Speaker Series began in September 2020 with talks by Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods and Sacramento Mayor and UC Davis Law alumnus Darrell Steinberg ’84. The series also encompassed two endowed lectures: the Bodenheimer Lecture on Family Law, delivered in October by Georgetown Professor Robin Lenhardt, and the Barrett Lecture on Constitutional Law, delivered in March by Lenhardt’s Georgetown colleague Paul Butler. Watch the lectures in the 2020-21 Racial Justice Speaker Series.




Fall 2020

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg ’84

Georgetown Law Professor Robin Lenhardt (Bodenheimer Lecture on Family Law)

Boston University School of Law Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig

UC Davis School of Law Professor Irene Oritseweyinmi Joe


Spring 2021

George Washington University Law School Professor Lisa Fairfax

Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson

Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler (Barrett Lecture on Constitutional Law)

UC Irvine School of Law Dean L. Song Richardson

UC Davis School of Law Professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin

UC Davis School of Law Professor Raquel Aldana