As we approach three years since the establishment of the Office of Equity & Inclusion (E&I), we write to share concrete updates on what we have accomplished, the significant efforts that continue, and how we will engage in the ongoing endeavor of advancing equity, inclusion, and justice together. E&I was created to support our entire community in advancing four primary goals: Expanding Access for Students; Increasing Diversity; Broadening Educational and Training Opportunities; and Fostering Inclusion & Community Engagement. In partnership with students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the Law School has made significant progress in each of these areas. The continued collaboration with our Law School community and across the University provides new and exciting opportunities to continue the momentum to advance equity and justice broadly. Below are just a few examples of steps we’ve taken so far, along with a preview of new initiatives.
Expanding Access for Students: Equalizing opportunity and increasing access to legal education is a cornerstone of our equity and justice work. We increased financial aid by more than 66% over the past five years, including increased re-evaluation awards and numerous new Toll and Dr. Sadie Alexander Scholarships. We continue to allocate the resources needed to meet the significant challenges of the pandemic. And we recently raised over $2.5 million that will be used to support First Generation Professionals Scholarships.
Moving Forward: As our financial position continues to strengthen, the Law School will continue to increase financial support for both current and incoming students. Effective this semester, current students receiving need-based aid will receive immediate assistance through the elimination of the declining award structure. Moreover, effective immediately, we will increase the Financial Aid Office’s emergency assistance re-evaluation supports, raising the cap to $8,000 for students and families experiencing a crisis or change in circumstances. Given the success of the inaugural year of our Dr. Sadie Alexander Scholarship Program, we are also expanding the Program to five Scholars for the 2022-23 academic year. These changes represent an additional 68% increase in aid – an investment of more than $8 million additional dollars over the next five years to further expand access.
Increasing Diversity: The diversity of our faculty, students, and staff continues to increase. Our efforts over a decade have increased the percentage of standing female faculty members by 92% and had a 51% increase in BIPOC standing faculty. In that time, we have hired close to 20 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, including four PIK professors, all of whom bring eminent scholarship and a diversity of experiences to our community. Most of these faculty additions have taken place in the past several years. You can read more about our newest standing faculty members here. We also continue to make progress in increasing the diversity of our clinical, LPS, and adjunct faculty, as well as in our staff. In addition, our student population increasingly represents the world around us, with each incoming class demonstrating even greater diversity than the one before. In our most recent entering Class of 2024, 48% identify as students of color. In addition, 14% of the entering class reports being the first generation to attend college, and nearly one-third report being the first generation to attend professional school.
Moving Forward: To help us continue to grow and celebrate the diversity of our community, we are finalizing a website that will track the gender and racial diversity of our faculty, staff, and students. This resource will be live by the end of the semester. We look forward to communicating more about this initiative in the coming months.
Broadening Educational Opportunities: Since 2019, we have added nearly 30 courses to our curriculum that focus on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some of our newest courses include “Law and Inequality,” “Disability Law,” and “Community Lawyering to End Mass Incarceration.” This ongoing curricular expansion represents the collective efforts of numerous members of our Law School community, notably including those who have participated in recruiting many esteemed new faculty colleagues, visitors, and lecturers with a wealth of expertise on these topics.
Moving Forward: We continue examining opportunities to expand our curriculum and create a greater focus on underrepresented causes and communities. We are also developing a skill-building program that will enhance the ability of all students to engage more deeply in the exploration of matters of race and equity, while offering focused training to students who wish to lead those discussions. This E&I Fellows Program will begin in the next academic year.
Fostering Inclusion & Community Engagement: Last year, we launched a task force to examine the history of the Taney medallion on the Silverman Hall exterior. The task force completed its analysis and recommended a course of action to the University, which we hope to announce shortly. In addition, we are partnering with the Mural Arts Project to create a portrait in West Philadelphia to honor the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., a civil rights advocate, historian, presidential advisor, and federal judge who was a long-time teacher at the Law School.
Moving Forward: We have created immediate opportunities to work with you to shape our next steps as we complete the many initiatives in progress and to collaborate on ways to expand and deepen our efforts. E&I is hosting Listening Sessions for members of our community to offer input on each priority area. Those interested can sign up here. In April, we will report back to our community about the feedback we’ve received, along with a full roster of ongoing and new initiatives. In the coming months, we will also work on completing our E&I Team to continue supporting our entire community in advancing our shared goals.
Every challenge is an opportunity. We have faced many challenges, but we take heart in the passion and determination of our community. We hear and appreciate the advocacy of our students, staff, faculty, and alumni and are confident that we can continue to increase access and diversity, while expanding education and training on critical matters of equity, justice, and inclusion. We look forward to continuing and deepening this important work together, and to sharing news of our collective progress regularly.
Arlene & Ted
Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Associate Dean for Equity & Justice; Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Officer
Ted Ruger, Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law