April 14 e-mail 4 from Michelle Kuo



Michelle Kuo to nreed, section1 09, minow, csharkey, heymann

Hi everybody,

I really hope people will take up Naomi’s invitation. Talking to her (in general and in this particular situation) is always uplifting and engaging, and she emphasized that this is an ongoing, collaborative effort. It’s not a matter of being against or for the letter. I will definitely sign onto a revised letter that sticks to the agenda of institutional change for substantive dialogue but alters the the primacy given to the anonymous email. I am afraid my previous email might be cited as a reason to dismiss the letter to the dean. I hope you will consider signing onto a revised letter; it would be powerful for us to have people from all backgrounds signing on to this. I really respect the initiative of Laura, Sarah, Adora, and Naomi.

If you think very little is at stake, consider that your classmates — people with whom you’ve engaged all year, and people whom you respect — took the time to write this. They feel their concerns genuinely. This is a very human baseline; it’s a reason to at least consider what the letter is trying to do.

We hear all the time about how diversity is an educational value. But have we really been benefited and challenged by our different experiences? Has law school taught you the “educational value” of diversity? You will contest what form “diversity” takes, what it really looks like — and that’s precisely the point. There has been no space to do so. (Perhaps you want to make an argument about the lack of attention to socioeconomic diversity, for example; have you gotten a chance to do so?). Where are the spaces to discuss these issues that are so fundamental to who we are, how we relate to one another, how experiences shape our imagination of change, possibility? It is all well and good if we individually seek out those conversations, but institutions can create this space and cultivate this particular sensibility.

These questions need not be controversial, although we shouldn’t fear controversy. Even if you do not agree completely with every sentence of the email, consider what it wants to do. (The sin of omission sometimes being worse than the sin of commission…)  It’s easy to dissect an idea or a text. We’re all good at this. What is much harder is to become architects, use our imagination: institutional spaces structure the way we interact with one another, sharpen our sensitivity to issues, broaden our ability to see multiple perspectives. I haven’t done enough research on different institutional designs, but I’m sure there are ideas. Yale Law has a 15 person small group that meets every week; each is run by a faculty member. The “syllabi” of these small groups are different — they range from Tolstoy to Guinier — but people use a shared text as a way to discuss where as we come from, what kind of people we want to become. The purpose of these small groups is neither ideological nor therapeutic. Rather, the purpose is to create a systematic place of dialogue, a more comfortable for people of different backgrounds to speak. It’s fundamentally humanist, and it’s institutionally driven.

Another institution could be regular biweekly faculty presentation/dialogue about an issue related to social inequity and diversity.

The dean could introduce this panel or person by emphasizing the university’s dedication to creating dialogue. Remember that first speech she gave at the beginning of the year where we were encouraged to interact with one another, and to revise our values continually, self reflectively? These spaces could reinforce that message regularly and push us to think about ourselves and our classmates in new ways.

Then, after the introduction, the faculty member could speak of a particular issue — perhaps, like Professor Chamallas, regarding gender and race in tort law. Or perhaps Prof. Guinier could talk about legal pedagogy. The point here is that the center of power, rather than a student group, recognizes a basic starting point and/or framework that offer a shared vocabulary. We need this vocabulary and framework to interact with one another; otherwise some will be accused of injecting the “personal,” of griping about one’s own issues, of bringing up topics irrelevant to legal doctrine. We need a starting point from which we can all begin to interact. (A cocktail reception afterwards might incentivize many people to come!.)

Each of these institutional changes taken alone might not satiate our hunger for something real and genuine; they may become piecemeal or insubstantial. But they are better than what we have now.

If my agenda here seems different from the agenda articulated in the letter, I don’t know exactly what those differences are; but. I do know that the value of advocating institutional change that creates substantive dialogue is reason enough to sign on.

Sorry for the minor novella; this is why my Ames brief was 4 pages too long….


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