Back in March, when New York City started to shelter in place, we moved 140 classes taught by 39 full-time and 85 adjunct faculty members completely online in just three days. In just a few more days, all of our operations—career development, student services, alumni relations, and more—were fully remote. The Law School building was eerily quiet then. But it was gratifying to know that elsewhere—all over really—our students were learning and the mission of the Law School was continuing.
Fast forward and many of us are back on campus this fall. The students and faculty in the building are keeping a social distance and diligently wearing masks. Other students join us virtually from near and far. Whether in person or remote, teaching and learning are happening and a community is building. As I noted back in March: It’s not the building that defines us; it’s the people—all working together to create something: lawyers that our world sorely needs.
As we've been for nearly100 years, St. John's is steadfast in our commitment to educating those lawyers. Our students and graduates learn the fundamentals of the law and build essential lawyering skills. But they also answer the question posed to St. Vincent de Paul 400 years ago: What must be done?
That question—now known as the Vincentian question—animates the Law School's mission. And it drove our actions this past summer as we responded to the long-standing crisis of anti-Black racism and racial injustice. As protesters across the country demanded justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans, close to 300 members of the St. John’s Law community came together for a virtual Dialogue Day organized by the student-run Coalition for Social Justice and Black Law Students Association, along with co-sponsoring student organizations and our Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights.
That milestone event was a call to action in solidarity with our Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It was also a catalyzing moment for St. John’s Law, as we commit to being an ardently and actively anti-racist institution and a community that embraces, prioritizes, and reflects the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As Dialogue Day approached I shared: This is a moment of real pain—pain that is felt most acutely by our Black colleagues and Black students. I don’t pretend to have the authority to speak about that pain. But I do know that, as a teaching-and-learning community, it is our responsibility to care for each other, to be with each other, to learn from each other, to love each other. To bear each other’s pain and lift each other up.
I'm enormously inspired by our students and alumni and by my colleagues on the faculty and in our administration. As St. John's Law continues to educate talented, hardworking lawyers who lead and innovate, together, we're rising to the opportunity to uplift one another, strengthen the Law School, and transform our profession.
Michael A. Simons
Dean and John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics