When the Mills Legal Clinic (MLC) at Stanford Law School started exploring ways to redesign its anti-racism and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) content two years ago, the team made a conscious decision to strengthen their own community as part of that effort.
Although the MLC, which is the umbrella organization for the law school’s 11 full-time clinics, has long included DEI training for its students, they decided to take a more holistic approach to their review, looking both within and at the broader community too. It was, in part, a response to recent horrific incidents of police brutality, including the murder of George Floyd, and a student movement called Racism Lives Here Too that have been the catalyst for more substantive work combating bias.
“These were not new things in our country, but it was a moment when there was an openness for conversation, engagement, and change,” says Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, who directs the MLC and the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and serves as associate dean of clinical education at SLS. And while Srikantiah emphasizes that the MLC was already a tight-knit community, reviewing its engagement with DEI was an opportunity to strengthen that community. And everyone was enthusiastic about the effort.
The clinic directors and staff formed several committees to determine how best to integrate anti-racism and DEI content in the classroom, in the clinics’ work, and in the broader MLC community. From the start, they outlined four “guiding principles.” First, they agreed DEI efforts must also address racism and especially anti-Black racism; second, they decided the entire community needed to be involved—not just affected groups but also allies.
The third principle—an acknowledgment that their efforts will not be without missteps and mistakes—underscores the need to create a strong sense of connection within the MLC, Srikantiah says.
“What does it mean to build a resilient community so that you can repair when things do happen?” she asks.
The fourth principle behind the DEI work is a recognition that the efforts are “central to the MLC’s service and education missions.”
“In the clinical sphere, our work directly addresses racial inequities,” says Candice Adams, the MLC’s director of operations. “We deal with impacted communities day in and day out. That is the name of our game.”
Faculty and staff learned best practices for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in relationships and teaching in sessions with the Stanford Office for Inclusion, Belonging and Intergroup Communication; the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning; and Leslie Chin, who teaches interpersonal dynamics classes at the Graduate School of Business, among other organizations. The MLC has also called on the expertise of Tirien Steinbach, who was hired last year as associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Part of the new content for students is delivered through the MLC’s rounds programming, modeled after a common practice in medical schools where doctors and students from different disciplines gather to listen, learn, and identify potential pathways for collaboration. In the MLC’s general rounds, small groups of students from all clinics—which cover topics ranging from immigration and environmental law to intellectual property and religious liberty—meet regularly to discuss crosscutting issues they’re facing in their work, including those related to DEI. Some of those discussions spring from examples of bias that are based on the lived experiences of MLC students, staff, and faculty.
In grand rounds, which take place once a quarter, the entire MLC community meets to hear from legal professionals who have centered anti-racism in their work. Past speakers include Washington State Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, LinkedIn Vice President Henry Fong, and Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford University psychology professor and the author of Biased.
The work has also been incorporated into individual clinics, which regularly share DEI-related ideas and materials.
“Those are difficult conversations,” says Matthew Sanders, JD ’02, a clinical supervising attorney with the Environmental Law Clinic who has led the effort to revamp the rounds programming. “To be enriching, they require a high degree of vulnerability.”
The MLC has also consulted with Dr. Meag-gan O’Reilly, a psychologist with the Vaden Health Center, for a series of sessions focused on deepening belonging and encouraging vulnerable conversations.
“The success of our DEI efforts turns on the fantastic contributions of the members of our committee and all of the talented faculty and staff in the clinic,” says Srikantiah.
Students’ substantive legal work will continue to address bias more directly as well. The MLC recently hired an attorney to head up a pilot-phase advanced clinical offering on racial justice, and the Environmental Law Clinic plans to bring in an environmental justice fellow to help develop projects designed to benefit communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental decision-making.
To ensure continued progress, the MLC has created a standing committee dedicated to anti-racism and DEI.
“This work is never done,” Srikantiah says. “To make lasting change, you need to have this be part of the fiber.”
Sanders says the DEI programming has made him feel “more connected” to his colleagues.
“It’s very easy to be siloed in our different roles, to just be focused on the students and client work,” she says. “But to actually have an environment where we can all come together and be intentional, thoughtful, and honest—it’s transformational.” SL
Rebecca Beyer is a former staff writer and editor for the Daily Journal.