The sweeping views of Manhattan’s skyline at dusk only added to the joyful atmosphere as 360 alumni, students, faculty, administrators, and guests gathered recently in celebration and community at the Law School’s Diversity & Inclusion Gala.
After two years of connecting from a distance, attendees delighted in reunion as they caught up with friends old and new. Together, they also welcomed the evening’s honoree, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, as she accepted the Law School’s Diversity Champion Award and delivered remarks.
View the Gala photo gallery
Depicting this moment in history as one marked by a pendulum that is swinging towards fairness while powerful forces try to swing it back, AG James said: “The question really is, what do you do in the role that has been handed to you? How can you make a difference in the life of someone who is struggling? What are you doing to uplift those who are vulnerable and marginalized and locked out of the sunshine of opportunity? You have been given a gift—all of you in this room—and what are you doing to make a change?”
That call to action has been at the heart of the Law School’s mission since it opened its doors almost 100 years ago. Today, it manifests in a student body that is 37% students of color, and in the work that Vernadette Horne does every day on behalf of all students as Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at St. John’s Law. It’s also evident in the Law School’s three in-house and six partner clinics, where students advocate for historically underserved and marginalized individuals and communities. The newest in-house offering, the Defense and Advocacy Clinic, is set to open this fall.
As they do through clinic field work, in the classroom, students learn about forces moving towards and against fairness. Among the innovative courses designed and taught by the Law School’s full-time faculty are: Professor Renee Nicole Allen’s Music & The Movement: Race, Rhythm, and Social Justice; Professor Rosa Castello’s Feminist Theories and Feminist Judgments; Professor Elayne Greenberg’s and Professor Cheryl Wade’s Lynching: Legal & Dispute Resolution Responses to Violence; and Professor Rachel Smith’s Civil Rights Advocacy.
Alumni are also vital partners in answering the call to effect change and make a difference. With their support, there are 16 endowed scholarships promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at St. John’s Law. Together, those scholarships are now worth almost $4 million. While that number keeps growing, the Aequitas Scholarship, Theodore T. Jones, Jr. Fellowship, and Ronald H. Brown Scholars Program collectively provide an additional $4 million in annual support that helps to build a more representative Law School and legal profession.
Thanking AG James, and reflecting on her insights, Dean Michael A. Simons told the Gala attendees: “Tonight is a celebration. It’s a celebration of our diversity, of our commitment to equity and inclusion, and of our shared work to make St. John’s Law a more antiracist institution. There is so much work to be done. The pendulum that AG James talked about wants to swing back. We have to keep working. We have to keep moving things forward. But tonight, we celebrate!”