Reflections from SCS Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Council on Racial Bias Incident at GU Law Center

Over the last week, Georgetown leaders have issued strong condemnations of the racial bias incident at the Law Center.  As many know, two (now former) faculty members of the Law Center were involved in a conversation that revealed a pernicious form of racism that would have remained hidden had the discussion not been recorded. In the wake of this incident and the responses that followed it, this episode has been framed as a learning opportunity for engaging more deeply in the shared work of realizing racial justice, equity, and inclusion at Georgetown. But what can be learned from this and who needs to learn it? How can we make sense of the reality that each of us, because of our different identities, have different learning edges and needs arising from this case?

Kristen Hodge-Clark, Ph.D, SCS senior assistant dean for program planning, Janet Gomez, Ph.D, SCS assistant dean for summer and special programs, and Michael Canter, JD, SCS senior associate dean for students and academic operations, offer personal reflections about the racist incident at the Law Center.

In this week’s post, Mission in Motion offers space for personal reflections from three SCS staff members who serve on the leadership committee of the Diversity, Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Council (DEBIC).  These personal reflections are intended to provide material for deeper exploration and engagement with the myriad issues surfacing from this particular incident.

In their book about facilitating dialogues around race, Race Dialogues: A Facilitator’s Guide to Tackling the Elephant in the Classroom, scholars Kaplowitz, Griffin, and Seyka maintain that the vulnerable sharing of personal narrative about race is “an important factor for breaking down unconscious and conscious bias, stereotypes, entrenched prejudice and discrimination” because “research on storytelling reveals that in the long run, people are more likely to remember a personal story than data.”  Through their personal sharing, Dr. Kristen Hodge-Clark, SCS senior assistant dean for program planning, Dr. Janet Gomez, SCS assistant dean for summer and special programs, and Michael Canter, SCS senior associate dean for students and academic operations, offer us narratives that can deepen understanding about the reality of racism at Georgetown and in other higher education spaces.

Kristen Hodge-Clark: “The racist assumptions and statements made by two GU Law faculty have reminded me of my daily reality and the painstaking questions I ask of myself almost every day as a participant in several spaces (within and outside of Georgetown) where I am one of a few, or the only person of color.   

I often wonder, now that I am here in this room, what is assumed of me because of my race before I even speak?  What judgements will I face because of my race before I even work? What is said about me because of my race? How will what I say or do be measured against a standard that was predicated on racism and bias?  Will who I am, what I have achieved, what I have contributed, what I have “proven” ever be enough to shield me from racist assumptions? Of course, I already know the answer to that question. So, I live another day with this burden on my back and these questions in my mind. 

At this moment, I am also reflecting on the horrific tragedy and hate crime in Atlanta that resulted in the murders of several women from the AAPI community. I am again reminded that racism is both a pernicious and pervasive beast that rears its ugly head every day in every way imaginable. Racism and its devastating impact on numerous communities is nothing short of a national crisis. As an academic institution, we have a moral imperative to work every day and in every way towards dismantling the assumptions that lead to racist rhetoric and racist actions.“

Janet Gomez: “As many have articulated, the events that occurred at the Law Center are horrifying, dehumanizing, and have no place in our Georgetown community or anywhere. Events such as those underscore the need for more anti-bias and anti-racist training and education. It underscores the need for inclusive pedagogy training and practice. It underscores the need for difficult conversations that lead to proactive measures and not reactive bandaids until another event. It underscores that our work here still has a long way to go. We not only need to do better as a community, we need to BE better. If you are as angry as I am, you should be, but anger without productive action does not lead to change. What will you be doing about it?”

Michael Canter: “I made the goal of attending law school around the age of eight. Long before I understood what studying the law meant or what I would have to sacrifice to attend in the first place. Yet as a child, and more notably now, it was the power and allure of words that drew me to that profession. The ways in which people frame their statements. Their choice of tone and length. The structure of rules and regulations. And ultimately, the way in which the above shapes the experience of all members of our society. It has fascinated me. Inspired me. And infuriated me. All at the same time. 

During my time in law school, I was very focused on my own experience and attempting to survive what at times seemed like an impossible task. I often never thought of those alongside me and what those individuals had to sacrifice on their own before their matriculation, but then most importantly, in the classroom. I wasn’t recognizing that I was taking my privilege of safety and comfort as a white man for granted—I could ask questions, perform poorly, put myself out there without a thought. Fail. Rinse and repeat. And do it again the next day without judgment. But what of my fellow students? Where was I in understanding their experiences? 

Learning is vulnerable. Allowing our minds to expand. Challenging our ideals. Making mistakes. And pushing the boundaries of inherent skill sets. All make the classroom such a sacred place. And the leaders of the classroom, trusted figures. We entrust them with guiding students to success and most importantly pushing them towards their own personal evolutions. 

Learning of the videos, I immediately viewed and reviewed as I am sure many others did across the world. I was, of course, drawn to the words. The tone. The framing. The pauses. All of which infuriated me. Not only for the loss of trust within our sacred spaces. Not for the feedback about budding legal scholars. Not just because of the disappointment in the faculty members. But I was angry with myself. Angry about my own ignorance from many years ago when I attended law school. Angry that I didn’t move to put my passion for words into action. Why did I not look to the left and to the right at my classmates? Did situations like this occur for them? Why was I unwilling to wrestle with my privilege? I don’t have answers to these questions but I do know that my heart and mind are ready in the present. Ready to use my words. And ready to continue to confront my privilege and to fight against systemic racism. “

For more Mission in Motion content on the relationship between Georgetown’s mission, values, and the quest for racial justice, see:

A Resource for Doing the Interior Work of Racial Justice“

How Our Religious Traditions at Georgetown are Responding to Cries for Racial Justice and Solidarity” 

What’s the Connection Between Our Mission and the Work of Racial Justice?”

Violence at the U.S. Capitol and Reflections from the Jesuit Network” 

Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities Introduce ‘Anti-Racism Examen’”

Recent SCS Programs Emphasize Mission, Diversity & Inclusion Values”