Diversity & Inclusion

Professor Mary Szto Writes “Barring Diversity? The American Bar Exam as Initiation Rite and its Eugenics Origin” in the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal

Professor Mary Szto has published the paper “Barring Diversity? The American Bar Exam as Initiation Rite and its Eugenics Origin” in the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal. The article appears in 21 Conn. Pub. Int. L.J. 38 (2022).


The American bar exam is an initiation rite that bars diversity in the legal profession.

According to the 2020 census, the US population is over 42% minorities. However, only 14% of the legal profession is. In 2020 the American Bar Association released data that the first-time bar exam pass rate was 88% for Whites, 80% for Asians, 78% for Native Americans, 76% for Hispanics, and 66% for Blacks.

Initiation rites often involve a separation from society, a liminal period, an ordeal, and then reincorporation into society. The bar exam follows this pattern. However, many minority candidates cannot afford months of unpaid isolated study, much less further bar attempts.

Racial disparities in first time bar passage rates are not coincidental, but rooted in the eugenics origin of the bar exam. Bar admissions standards arose amid teachings about Anglo-Saxon white supremacy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eugenics theory was then mainstream science and held that non-whites should be denied access to property ownership, education, and the legal profession. Minorities were excluded from most law schools, and there was widespread fear of immigrants diluting the US white population and the legal profession.

Eugenics-inspired federal redlining policies from the 1930s also led to huge racial wealth gaps then and now. Homeownership is the chief way Americans build intergenerational wealth. Redlining prevented non-whites from owning homes by blocking access to federally subsidized home mortgages. Thus, in pre-pandemic 2019 White families had eight times the wealth of Black families and five times the wealth of Hispanic families. Therefore, to diversify the legal profession, we must acknowledge this eugenics history and racial wealth gap and institute the diploma privilege, or create sequenced open book bar exams or other alternatives that do not require costly isolated study and bar preparation courses. Healing reform will help all candidates, and the public we serve.

Professor Arlene Kanter Receives a Chai Feldblum Award from the AALS Section on Law Professors with Disabilities and Allies

At the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) 2023 Annual Meeting, Professor Arlene Kanter, Director of the College of Law’s Disability Law and Policy Program, received a Chai Feldblum Award from the AALS Section on Law Professors with Disabilities and Allies.

The award is named after Chai Feldblum J.D., an EEO and DEI consultant, Partner and Director of Workplace Culture Consulting at Morgan Lewis, and former Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is the third year the award has been given.

Kanter’s nomination letters note that she is “an influential scholar, innovator, and leader,” and that students and colleagues often conveyed their personal thanks for your advocacy on their behalf.  

Kanter also spoke on a panel about experiences requesting disability accommodations as a law school employee.

Arlene Kante
Arlene Kanter Portrait

Professor Arlene Kanter Discusses Remote Work Opportunities for Disabled Workers with the NYT 

Arlene Kante

The strong late-pandemic labor market is giving a lift to a group often left on the margins of the economy: workers with disabilities. Companies’ newfound openness to remote work has led to opportunities for people whose disabilities make in-person work — and the taxing daily commute it requires — difficult or impossible, reports the New York Times.

In the past, employers often resisted offering remote work as an accommodation to disabled workers, and judges rarely required them to do so. But that may change now that so many companies were able to adapt to remote work in 2020, said Professor Arlene Kanter, Director of the Disability Law and Policy Program. 

“If other people can show that they can perform their work well at home, as they did during Covid, then people with disabilities, as a matter of accommodation, shouldn’t be denied that right,” Kanter said.

Prof. Kanter and Yohannes Zewale LL.M. ’19 and Current S.J.D. Candidate Discuss Disability Rights and Citizenship on Panel 

Our understanding of citizenship can be transformed when viewed through the perspective of people with disabilities. How do disability rights fit into the modern Human Rights framework? Have universities become more accessible and if so for whom? Are disabled students fully included in higher education’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts? And how do disability rights in New York State and the United States compare to other countries? 

Professor Arlene Kanter, Founder and Director of the Disability Law and Policy Program (DLPP), and Yohannes Zewale LL.M. ’19 and current S.J.D. Candidate participated on the “Renewing Democratic Community: Disability Rights and Citizenship in the Modern Civil Rights Era” panel hosted by the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. The panel discussed how promoting disability rights moves us closer to realizing the promise of full citizenship in democracies here and around the world. 

Led by Chris Faricy, Associate Professor of Political Science and the inaugural Hicker Family Professor in Renewing Democratic Community, additional panelists included Brian McLane, President of Paradigm Solutions; Beth Myers, Lawrence B. Taishoff Assistant Professor of Inclusive Higher Education; and Paula Possenti-Perez, Director for the Center for Disability Resources.

Associate Dean Suzette Meléndez Speaks on DEI Panel at the 2022 Associate Dean Conference at the Texas A&M School of Law 

Professor Suzette Meléndez

Associate Dean Suzette Meléndez participated on a panel at the 2022 Associate Dean Conference at the Texas A&M School of Law earlier this month. Meléndez’s panel addressed issues related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, including the recent addition of ABA Standard 303(c), which requires law schools to provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.  

Additional sessions at the conference included panels on bar passage, professionalism and leadership, online and hybrid JD programs, rankings, and advice for those who want to become a law dean.

In Honor of Juneteenth, Professor Paula Johnson Participates in Two Symposia on Matters of Race and Law

Professor Paula Johnson (Center of Photo) at the Franklin H. Williams Commission’s Race and Law Symposium

Earlier this month, Professor Paula Johnson participated in two symposia on matters of race and law in honor of Juneteenth. The first event was the Franklin H. Williams Commission’s Race and Law Symposium. The full-day event took place on June 16th and centered on illuminating modern systemic racism’s roots in slavery and legally codified racial discrimination, including two panel discussions with leading legal academics, practitioners, and historians. 

Johnson moderated the panel, synthesizing multiple complex legal perspectives into an informative and thought-provoking session.  

Later that day, Johnson served as the keynote speaker for the Juneteenth commemoration for the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association and the Montgomery County Bar Association.

In a talk entitled Claiming Freedom: Triumphs and Travails of Emancipation Lawsuits, Johnson examined the efforts of enslaved and formerly enslaved persons of African descent to secure their freedom and legal rights through the court system. Johnson focused her discussion on notable efforts such as Sojourner Truth’s successful New York State lawsuit in 1828, to free her son, Peter, who had been illegally sold in Alabama. This litigation made Truth the first Black woman to successfully sue a White man for a family member’s freedom.  

The discussion also focused on the triumphs and challenges of seeking freedom and other legal rights through the court system during Antebellum and Postbellum periods. Examination of these cases aims to compare the relationships between past and present demands for liberation and equality as a multifaceted and constant struggle, which can lead toward a free and informed future.

College of Law Hosts Inaugural Consortium Summer Residency Program in Partnership with AUC HBCUs

The College of Law held its Inaugural Consortium Summer Residency Program on May 16-20, 2022. Twenty-one undergraduate students from the Atlanta University Center (AUC) HBCUs, representing Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, came to Syracuse ready to learn through a week full of academic, preparatory, social, and cultural events.

Thanks to a grant from AccessLex, these students, interested in pursuing a law degree, were able to travel to Syracuse to learn about the legal profession and how to prepare for law school. Students arrived at the College of Law ready for the slate of events planned for the week, enjoying a tour of Dineen Hall and their first class session prior to a welcome dinner with an address from Dean Craig Boise, and words of wisdom from several distinguished alumni in attendance.

As the week went on, each day began with classroom lectures and panel discussions in Dineen Hall. Topics included a variety of subjects, encompassing:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Developments
  • Constitutional Law
  • The Study of Law and the American Legal System
  • Admissions Processes, LSAT Information, and Various Resources

Instructors, speakers, and panelists throughout the week included Vice Dean Keith Bybee, Professor Kelly Curtis, Professor Shannon Gardner, Professor Paula Johnson, Professor Kevin Noble Maillard, Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Suzette Melendez, Professor Deborah O’Malley, Professor Gary Pieples, Mariah Combs L’22, and Keyashia Willis L’22.

Outside of the classroom, students traveled to the Northern District of New York James M. Hanley Federal Courthouse where they heard from and engaged with Hon. Andrew Baxter (United States Magistrate Judge, Northern District of New York), Hon. David Peebles L’75 (Recalled United States Magistrate Judge, Northern District of New York), Hon. Glenn Suddaby L’85 (District Judge, Northern District of New York), and Hon. Thérèse Wiley Dancks L’91 (United States Magistrate Judge, Northern District of New York) and Law Clerk Michael Langan.

This was followed by a visit to the law office of Bond, Schoeneck and King (BSK) to hear a panel of perspectives from the Judiciary along with a networking reception attended by several alumni and attorneys from the Syracuse area. Panelists at the BSK event included Hon. Vanessa Bogan (Judge, Syracuse City Court), Dancks L’91, Hon. Deborah Karalunas L’82 (Presiding Justice, Supreme Court, Commercial Division, Onondaga County), Hon. Ramon E. Rivera L ’94 (Judge, New York State Court of Claims), and Judge Derrek Thomas (Judge, Fifth Judicial District of New York).

“There was robust engagement, in-depth learning, and connections made among our faculty, staff, alumni, members of our federal and state judiciary, and our local legal professionals from various public and private law firm offices,” Melendez said. “The students exceeded already high expectations with their inquiries and the manner in which they engaged. They demonstrated a great deal of interest and their poised maturity exceeded their years.” 

The final full day of the program included enriching cultural experiences for the students with a few historic Central New York stops. Traveling to Auburn, NY, the group had an opportunity to tour the Harriet Tubman House. While in Auburn, students also visited the Auburn Public Theater to hear from Angela Winfield, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Law School Admission Council (LSAC). They also heard from Ferris Smith from LSAC, earlier in the day and learned of various resources available to them as law school applicants. After a long and full day of activities, the afternoon wrapped up with dinner at Salt City Market, a new Syracuse food hall representing our community with samples of diverse local foods to enjoy.

One of the students who participated in this program, Eric Jones, explained how invaluable this experience has been for him as a rising senior from Morehouse College. 

“I never had a formal introduction to law school,” Jones said. “I’ve talked about it with a few lawyers but haven’t had any exposure to it otherwise. When I came across this opportunity, I thought – why not? The special incentive here was that there was no financial burden for us as a student. We could come and participate for no extra charge.”

This residency is a part of the College of Law’s partnership with the AUC schools, aiding young students in their path to determine how they can achieve their law degrees, the many paths to becoming a successful lawyer, and why the study of law is so important within our society.

Professor Paula Johnson On SCOTUS Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Public Defender Experience

Professor Paula Johnson

In an interview with WAER, Professor Paula Johnson noted that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would bring a perspective that the Court has never had amongst its jurists: she is the only nominee to ever have experience as a public defender. 

Professor Paula Johnson said that means she had to represent clients who were often poor and people of color, and could see the disparities in their treatment and access to resources. Johnson said the court would be less one-sided with her on the bench.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a particular outcome after hearing these voices, but it does mean there will be a full airing of all of the positions that ought to be considered when we’re talking about, in this instance, criminal justice matters,” Johnson said.

Cold Case Justice Initiative Announces the Second Annual Wharlest & Exerlena Jackson Legacy Program

The Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson Legacy Project and the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) at Syracuse University College of Law are hosting the second annual Program on April 1 and 2, 2022 in honor of the memory of Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson for their major contributions and sacrifices to the cause of racial justice, civil rights, voting rights, and full civic engagement

This year’s Program Theme is: Honor Their Memories. Continue Their Legacy. The second annual program of the Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson Project is designed to recognize the sacrifices of the Jacksons for civil rights, to provide information and resources for students to achieve their aspirations and goals, and to continue the Jacksons’ legacy for racial and social justice. Participation is open to junior and senior high school students in Natchez, MS, Syracuse, NY., and communities in other areas. There are sessions for parents, guardians, teachers, and administrators to help students plan for post-high school life. The program takes place Friday evening, April 1, and throughout Saturday, April 2, 2022. The event will be held online on Zoom. The program is FREE and all are welcome to attend.

The program features a keynote presentation by Brad Lichtenstein and Yoruba Richen, directors of the PBS Frontline documentary, “American Reckoning,” about the lives of Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson, and the Black community’s resistance to racial injustice. There will be remarks by Jackson family members, including Denise Jackson Ford and Wharlest Jackson, Jr., CCJI Director Professor Paula C. Johnson, and law students in the Cold Case Justice Initiative, among other presenters.

There will be concurrent panels for students interested in college, vocational fields, creative arts, STEM, financial literacy, and civic participation. There also are sessions for parents, teachers, and administrators to discuss ways and resources to support high school students before and after graduation.

The registration deadline is Thursday, March 31, 2022, at 5:00 pm Central. For more information or questions, please contact jacksonlegacy@syr.edu.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Wharlest and Exerlena were active in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi to assist people of color to register to vote, have a voice in their community, and to increase educational and employment opportunities. Wharlest became the Treasurer of the local NAACP Chapter, in Natchez. Exerlena was also active in the movement for voter registration and civil rights.

Wharlest had the qualifications that earned him a promotion within Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company for a job that previously had been held only by Whites. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in the area, and Wharlest was constantly threatened for his activism and his employment position. He was murdered on February 27, 1967, when a bomb was detonated under his truck when he left work.

No one has been held accountable for Wharlest Jackson’s death. However, Wharlest and Exerlena’s work was not in vain. They were courageous and their actions galvanized the community to insist on the equal rights and civic participation that they fought for. The Jackson Legacy Project will carry on their legacy by providing the annual two-day program to inspire others to continue to fight for voting rights, education, and employment opportunities for all people.

About the Cold Case Justice Initiative: The Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) at Syracuse University College of Law was co-founded by Professor Paula C. Johnson and Professor Janis L. McDonald (emerita). Professor Johnson continues to direct the Initiative. CCJI investigates unsolved racially motivated homicides and disappearances, such as the Wharlest Jackson case, which occurred during the Civil Rights Era and contemporary times. CCJI works to hold responsible parties accountable and conducts relevant research, academic education, professional training, public awareness, and memorial legacies of victims of racial crimes who fought for the rights and freedoms of present and future generations. For more information, visit http://law.syracuse.edu/academics/clinical-experiential/experiential-courses/cold-case- justice-initiative/.

Professor Paula Johnson Discusses Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson with Spectrum News

Professor Paula Johnson

Professor Paula Johnson was interviewed by Spectrum News about the groundbreaking nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Johnson says, “What makes this unprecedented is that we have not had a Black woman on the court before but that certainly doesn’t mean that there have not been Black women who have been suited to sit on the highest court of the United States.”