TOURO LAW JOURNAL OF RACE
At the beginning of the academic year, 2015-2016, I announced my intention to retire at the end of the year. I knew the transition, a re-definition of self, would be difficult. Teaching and writing, working with students and colleagues at Touro and other law schools, was more than a job. It was the way in which I defined myself.
There are so many ways in which my life has been constructed from or built on relationships that developed over thirty plus years of teaching. My life as a teacher was shaped by my commitment to students, by my relationships with colleagues within the academy and by the opportunities I have had to write articles and books. Everything begins at home and Touro Law Center was my home for almost 30 years. During my career I have worked with faculty at law schools where I was a visiting professor, with faculty who were members of sections of the American Association of Law Schools as well as members of the board and committees of the Society of American Law Teachers. All of these connections mattered. Each of them offered me an opportunity to work on or for social change. Each provided meaning because I was actively engaged in work that I hoped would increase access to legal education for students who might not have had access in the past because of their race, ethnicity, gender or class. As a teacher I wanted to show students why law matters, how it supports and recreates structures of subordination but also how it can be used to solve individual and collective problems.
My favorite definition comes from a website that promotes ?resilience circles.? An affinity group on that
site is defined as ?a small group of people who support each other and work to change the world.? ?What is an
Affinity Group?? RESILENCE CIRCLES, (May 17, 2012),
I speak of organizations, but organizations are made up of people who act individually and
collectively to achieve a particular purpose. Sometimes they are formed deliberately and
consciously. Sometimes they seem to arise spontaneously and organically. The two organizations
which were most important to me in my formative years as a law professor were the Northeast
People of Color Scholarship Conference (NEPOC) and the Northeast Corridor Collective of Black
Women Law Professors (Northeast Corridor Collective).
For many years now I have been on the planning committee for the Northeast People of
Color Conferences. In the spring of 1998, I helped organize the Third Annual Northeast People of
Color conference which was held at Touro Law Center. Many of the papers presented at that
conference were published in the Touro Law Review as a symposium called The Salience of Race:
Race in America. Last year, eighteen years later, in my last year as a law teacher at Touro, I asked
Professor Elaine Chiu, the Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic
Development at St. John?s University School of Law and Director of NEPOC, if Touro Law Center
and St. John?s University School of Law could co-sponsor NEPOC in the Spring of 2016.
The initial planning meeting took place during the AALS meetings in New York City in
January of 2016. Professors Eric Miller and Solangel Maldonado, Elaine and I discussed the theme
and topics which might be addressed at the conferences. Paula Johnson and Paulette Caldwell
were among those who participated in a refinement of theme for the conference. We settled on the
title ?Confronting the Violence of our Times: The Role of the Legal Academy.? Professors
Deseriee Kennedy and Cynara McQuillan were the working group on the ground at Touro.
NEPOC is an academic conference.2 NEPOC conferences have been held over 22 years
with the exception of those years when all of the regional people of color conferences came
together to hold a combined National People of Color Conference. NEPOC conferences have been
held at Western New England University College of Law, New England School of Law, UMass
Dartmouth (formerly Southern New England School of Law), Boston University School of Law,
Suffolk University School of Law, Hofstra Law School, CUNY Law School, among others and in
Bermuda, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
There are panel discussions and presentations of works in progress. NEPOC has been a
place where the achievements of faculty of color are recognized. The two awards that are
conferred are the Haywood Burns/Shanara Gilbert Award for an activist teacher/scholar or activist
lawyer and the Kellis Parker Award named for the first black faculty member at Columbia Law
School who fought for greater diversity in legal education.
In 2016, I felt that it would be appropriate to give the Haywood Burns/Shanara Gilbert
Award to a group rather than an individual, for the first time. I nominated the Northeast Corridor
Collective of Black Women Law Professors. I nominated that group even though the Northeast
Corridor Collective no longer exists. The women who were part of that Collective have not
forgotten how important it was in their development as law professors and scholars.
2 See Robert Ward, Northeast People of Color Conference, 8 J. OF RACE GENDER & ETHNICITY 1 (in this issue).
I believe that the Northeast Corridor began spontaneously in response to a felt need. It was
described by Emma Coleman Jordon as a group with a ?collaborative style of governance? with a
?non-hierarchical structure and process.?3 We met in the homes of members in meetings that
moved up and down the northeast corridor from New York to Philadelphia to the District of
Columbia. The quarterly meetings, as Professor Jordon described them, were a place where there
was an exchange of ?ideas in the development of black feminist theory and practice.?4
I would describe those meetings as one of a very few ?safe spaces? for black women
faculty. The importance of a safe space cannot be overstated. It was, after all, an era when there
was open hostility and overtly racist attacks on faculty of color and especially women of color.5
?Non-hierarchical? meant that within this group, the ranking of schools did not matter. At that
time, Touro was only provisionally accredited. I did not perceive any difference in the way I was
treated by the women in that group. There were no cliques in the Northeast Corridor, no
assumptions about the intelligence or value of the contributions each of us made to the discussions
Emma Coleman Jordon organized an effort to publish essays and articles by some of the
women in the Collective and these essays were published in the Berkeley Women?s Law Journal
in 1991. In her Introduction to that volume, she reported that 16 women were at the first meeting
in 1988 but by the time the symposium issue was published there were 91 women on the mailing
list.6 The articles published in the issue were, according to Professor Jordon, ??individual and
collective efforts to undertake the difficult task of self-definition.? 7 My article, Reflections on
Identity, Diversity and Morality,8 was one of the articles included in the issue.
And yet, as much as it meant to all of us, such a loose confederation of teachers and scholars
could not be sustained. As Robert Ward has pointed out in his essay, it has become a tradition at
NEPOC conferences to honor the ?trail blazers, ?the pioneers, the ?firsts? who paved the way for
3 Emma Coleman Jordon, Black Women in the Legal Academy, 6 BERKELEY WOMEN?S L.J. 1 (1990-91) n.5.
4 Id. at 3, n.11.
5 Two of the more egregious attacks which I remember occurred in the 1990s. Professor Jordon credits one of them,
?The Harvard Controversy,? as the catalyst for the symposium issue of the Berkeley Women?s Law Journal. Id. at
4. There was a controversy over the treatment of Regina Austin, a tenured faculty member at University of
Pennsylvania Law School, who was a visitor at Harvard Law School. In an article published in the New York
Times written by Fox Butterfield, included quotes from students in Professor Austin?s tort class. No one should ever
rely on a first year student?s evaluation of their first law school classes, but this reporter for the New York Times
included a comment by a student who said that Professor Austin ?had shown favoritism to minority students? and
then complained that her class was ?more sociology than law.? See Fox Butterfield, Harvard Law School Torn by
Race Issue, NYTIMES, April 26, 1990. My assessment is that this is a classic example of what is commonly
described as an expression of ?white privilege.?
Another example of these attacks appeared in an article written by Heather McDonald and published in City
Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute, which describes itself as ?a leading free market think tank.? Ms.
McDonald wrote an article that attacked critical legal theory ? particularly critical race theory and feminist theory.
And while she dismisses the ?legal storytelling movement,? she began her article with a quote from a student at New
York University Law School who said she was ?going home crying every day? because she was so unhappy in
Professor Paulette Caldwell?s class on race and legal scholarship. Heather MacDonald, Law School Humbug, CITY
JOURNAL, AUTUMN 1995.
6Jordon, supra n.3.
7 Id. at 4.
8 Deborah Waire Post, Reflections on Identity, Diversity and Morality, 6 BERKELEY WOMEN?S L.J. 136 (1990-1991).
those of us who followed.9 The award to the Northeast Corridor Collective was timely and well
9 See Derrick Bell, A Colony at Risk, 15 TOURO L. REV. 347 (1999) (describing the NEPOC meeting at which 8
faculty of color were honored who had been in teaching for 25 years or more. Those faculty members were John
Baker, Albany, Frank Bae, New England School of Law, Frederick Tse Shyang Chen, Quinnipiac Law School, John
Gregory, Hofstra University School of Law, Larry Palmer, Cornell Law School, and Surya Prakash Sinha, Pace Law
School and the A Colony at Risk author, Derrick Bell, who was at New York University School of Law at that time).
NORTHEAST PEOPLE OF COLOR LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP CONFERENCE 2016
From Left: Professor Lani Guinier, Harvard Law School; Professor Emily M.S. Houh, University of Cincinnati College of Law; Professor Nancy
Ota, Albany Law School; Professor Donna Young, Albany Law School; Professor Patricia J. Williams, Columbia Law School; Professor Paula C.
Johnson, Syracuse University College of Law; Professor Deborah W. Post, Touro Law; Professor Paulette M. Caldwell, NYU Law; Professor
Anthony Paul Farley, Albany Law School; Judge Fern A. Fisher, Hofstra Law; Professor Odeana R. Neal, University of Baltimore School of Law;
Robert V. Ward, Jr., Esq.