2018 Gala Event Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion at St. John’s Law
As he watched the sun dip over lower Manhattan through the windows of the Tribeca Rooftop, Kyle Gens ’18 recognized the full-circle moment. Three years earlier, he had made the decision to attend St. John’s Law because of its commitment to diversity. Now, as he prepared to graduate, he joined 275 other guests to celebrate the rich fabric of the Law School community at the second annual Diversity & Inclusion Gala.
Gens wasn’t just a celebrant, he helped to organize the event as a student member of the Gala Planning Committee. “Last year’s Gala was a great experience for me, so I wanted to contribute to its success this year,” he says, adding that it was a memorable evening. “Listening to the different speakers, I knew I was a part of a family of alumni, faculty, and students who are all dedicated to helping me continue reaching my goals as an attorney of color.”
Welcoming Gens and the other attendees, including a number of newly admitted students, Dean Michael A. Simons noted with pride that the Law School promotes a culture that values and includes the rich panoply of what makes America so strong: racial and ethnic diversity, sexual orientation diversity, religious diversity, language and national origin diversity, and political diversity.
It’s a commitment to diversifying the legal profession that manifests in the work of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and its Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students, an award-winning summer pipeline program serving students from historically underrepresented groups who want to pursue a career in the law. To date, over 150 Prep Program alumni have attended 54 law schools across the country, including: Harvard; Yale; BC; Cornell; Duke; Emory; Georgetown; GW; NYU; Penn; St. John’s; UC Berkeley; UCLA; U-M; and Vanderbilt. This year for the first time, with a $300K grant from the Law School Admission Council, the Prep Program will offer an additional program just for male students of color who have finished one year of college. This unique offering addresses the gender imbalance in higher education that can often be a very isolating experience.
The same commitment runs to diversifying St. John’s Law, Dean Simons said, highlighting a “massive investment in putting our money where our mission is.” The current student body is 27 percent students of color and, thanks to generous alumni, there are 14 endowed scholarships promoting diversity at the Law School. “Together those scholarships are now worth over $1.6 million, and that number is growing every year,” Dean Simons shared. “In addition, the Ronald H. Brown Scholars program provides an additional $2.1M in annual scholarships to support diversity and a commitment to civil rights. That’s how you make a difference.”
The Law School’s mission-driven investment is also evident in its faculty, Dean Simons said, extolling the diversity of the four new faculty members who will be joining the law school this fall. “This progress is the result of faculty and institutional commitment, and significant student input,” he explained.
Building a diverse and inclusive culture and community is hard work, Dean Simons acknowledged, but it’s well worth the effort. This same message was at the core of the powerful and uplifting keynote speech delivered at the Gala by David C. Banks '93, President and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation.
As founding principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, Banks started a network of innovative all-boys public schools in New York City and New Jersey in response to the national crisis primarily afflicting men of color who have very low graduation and high incarceration rates. A central tenet of Eagle Academy is that a nurturing institution that supports excellence in character and scholarship opens doors and provides a bridge to equality.
“I enjoyed hearing from Mr. Banks tremendously, he’s an inspiration,” says Samantha Ojo '19, who served on Gala Planning Committee. “The Law School’s commitment to diversity means the world to me as I prepare to enter the legal profession because of the tremendous power of representation and inclusion. Despite any perceived differences, we are strongest when we come together. The Gala gives students an incredible opportunity to connect with lawyers of color and women who not only blaze trails ahead of us, but also reassure us that we, too, can attain our goals regardless of the field’s current racial or gender makeup.”
Gala Planning Committee member Stephanie Tan '18 agrees that the event has enhanced the St. John’s Law community. “The Law School's ongoing mission of diversity and inclusion is incredibly important, especially as the makeup and needs of the larger legal community continue to change,” she says. “As a student and soon-to-be alumna, it’s wonderful to see St. John’s Law recognize and respond to these changes in meaningful ways.”
As Dean Simons shared with the Gala attendees, the Law School’s remains steadfast in its mission: “Diversity and inclusion is important—it is a core value—not just because it’s the right thing to do. It is. But more importantly, being diverse, being inclusive, makes us better, makes St. John’s Law stronger, now, and for years to come.”