Movements are often the result of reaching a collective breaking point. For many, the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, was just that trigger. And for four alumni, it was also the spark that prompted them to form the SLS Black Alumni Association (SLS BAA).
“You had the murder of George Floyd. And then a faculty member used the N-word in a class,” says Lianne Worden, JD ’09, who was one of several alumni contacted by BLSA students seeking their support that year. Worden, along with Alex Gilbert, JD/MA ’18, Bolanle Olupona, JD ’09, and Jessica Verran-Lingard, JD ’14/MBA ’15, started planning SLS BAA in 2020 and today are members of its leadership team (joined earlier this year by Faaris Akremi, JD ’18).
“I was looking for a tangible way to create positive change as it relates to racial equality. A lot of us were feeling powerless after the murder of George Floyd and others,” says Verran-Lingard, associate principal counsel at Lucasfilm. “Helping to start and being involved in SLS BAA was a way that I could help further the issues around racial equality and racial justice in my own way.”
Launched in January 2021, SLS BAA is an alumni-driven effort to build community and connection among Black SLS alumni and to engage with and mentor current BLSA students, creating a support network for them during law school and as they transition to careers. The group is also a point of contact for the Stanford Law School administration, advising on key areas regarding race and helping to promptly address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“Communication with our alumni is so important, and having a partnership with SLS BAA to get feedback about issues around race and how we can improve the experience our Black students have is very helpful,” says Jenny Martinez, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean, who holds regular meetings with the group to discuss issues such as financial aid, faculty diversity and training, and planning for DEI initiatives.
“It’s a continuation of conversations I had with the law school’s administration when I was a student,” says Worden, chief of staff and counsel to the chief legal officer at Coinbase. “I hope we can be helpful in taking some of the burden off students of color or sharing the burden so they do not feel alone in their engagement with the school.”
“Our work on inclusion is never done,” adds Martinez. “I’m glad we have this group to help us and I hope more alumni affinity groups form.” To that end, SLS BAA leaders have been meeting with other diverse alumni hoping to form affinity groups and sharing their road map.
Critical to SLS BAA’s success has been the dedication of the leadership team and several other Black alums, who met every Sunday for the better part of a year brainstorming how they could engage further with the school and students—and start the group. Worden, president of SLS BAA, remembers earlier efforts by other Black alumni to launch a Black alumni association, including Dawn Smalls, JD ’03, who invested significant time and financial resources to build a directory of SLS Black alumni. “These previous efforts faltered because the law school did not have dedicated staff to support them at the time. We’ve built upon the work of Dawn and other Black alumni before us.” Equally important has been the addition of dedicated staff to support efforts to build alumni affinity groups. Dean Martinez approved the creation of a new role, director of diverse communities, and in 2020 Pedro Gonzalez was hired and has since met regularly with the team and other alumni interested in forming affinity groups.
In its first year, SLS BAA has hosted membership- and faculty-focused programs including events connecting alumni to faculty (so far with Professors Rich Ford, Rabia Belt, and Ron Tyler), a panel on hiring diverse faculty, virtual summer pop-ups for alumni and BLSA students (incoming and current), a town hall meeting with Dean Martinez, and a book launch conversation with Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, JD ’74. And they’ve engaged with current SLS students, supporting programming on clerkships and helping to strengthen the connections between BLSA and the alumni community. This year, the leadership team was recognized by the Stanford Alumni Association with an Award of Merit for its volunteer efforts.
“We’re building community and a sense of belonging,” says Verran-Lingard, who serves as VP of alumni engagement for SLS BAA, board member of Stanford GSB’s Black Alumni Chapter, and Board Member of the GSB’s Alumni Association. “Connection is important for any alum, regardless of their background. And we’ve found this really resonates with alumni.”
Alumni interested in getting involved with SLS BAA should contact email@example.com or find it on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. SL