UC Davis Law Moves Forward on Key DEI Initiatives

By Carla Meyer

As part of continuing efforts in the pursuit of ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion at UC Davis Law, two law school committees submitted reports addressing matters ranging from curriculum reform to student recruitment to DEI training for all.

At the end of the 2021/22 academic year, the Educational Policy Committee announced forthcoming DEI curriculum reforms and the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion released its inaugural strategic plan. Both reports offer recommendations on augmenting King Hall’s existing DEI achievements, which include a rare “majority-minority” faculty and student body, First Generation Advocates program, an array of wellness programing, and a groundbreaking Racial Justice Speaker Series.

“If you are truly committed to issues of DEI, the work never ends,” Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Afra Afsharipour said.

The reports represent months of study. The Educational Policy Committee suggested a series of initiatives highlighted by a new upper-level course graduation requirement. The faculty unanimously approved the recommendations. The requirement takes effect with the fall 2023 incoming first-year class. Rather than require all students take the same course, the law school will present a menu of options from which students can choose a class.

Future Educational Policy Committees will determine what classes satisfy the standard, but many existing courses likely would qualify, noted Professor Brian Soucek, chair of the 2021-22 committee. Established courses that likely would meet the standard include Access to Justice; Comparative Forced Migration; Critical Race Theory; Employment Discrimination; Gender, Sexuality and the Law; Race and the Law; Reproductive Rights, Law, and Policy; and Tax and Distributive Justice.

The American Bar Association House of Delegates recently voted to amend ABA Standard 303 to require law schools “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism” at “the start of the program of legal education” and “at least once again before graduation.”

UC Davis Law already requires implicit bias training for first-year students and offers a social justice-minded community book read and a “Critical Perspectives” lecture series organized around the first-year curriculum presented by the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies. Along with its recommendation for a new DEI course requirement, the faculty approved the Educational Policy Committee’s suggestions, including that:

  • Intro Week anti-bias and sensitivity training be retained and potentially expanded or improved;
  • Further steps be taken to add critical and antiracist perspectives to the 1L curriculum;
  • The Externship Seminar and clinical programs offer a session on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism; and
  • Opportunities for faculty training on DEI-related matters be explored and expanded and that the faculty commit to attending a training in 2022-23.

The Educational Policy Committee consulted with the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Created in spring 2021 by Dean Kevin R. Johnson, the committee is chaired by Director of Diversity and Student Life Alexis Elston and consists of faculty, students, staff and an alumni board member. Senior Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Emily Scivoletto is an ex-officio member.

Over 2021-22, the committee discussed how to expand on the law school’s excellent DEI work. Its strategic plan urges that, among other things, the law school continue to:

  • Cultivate an inclusive atmosphere and sense of belonging;
  • Support community mental health;
  • Recruit diverse staff members and students; and
  • Develop and provide more resources to students from lower-income backgrounds.

The report contains what the committee calls “seeds of ideas that will grow into a sustainable DEI plan.”

“We now have a very systemic process to ensure that our diversity, equity and inclusion programs and culture are moving forward every year,” Scivoletto said.

Student input was essential to both reports. Educational Policy Committee student representatives included Arton Falahati ’22, Neha Malik ’23 and Amanda Eppley ’24. Malik also was part of the DEI Committee, with fellow Class of ’23 members Celine Bisson, Giselle Garcia, Andie Johnson, Cinthia Padilla Martin and Aminah Shakoor.

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