Issues · Law School

When Your Professor is Racist

Hello! It’s been a minute and really this entire week I have been watching and reading about the attacks in Virginia. It has made me more guarded and angry. And I really don’t know what the solution will be, but I guess we can only take it one day at time or whatever.

Anyway, the best way for me to refocus this energy is to connect with this community and I want to talk about ignorance in the classroom, which seems like it will be especially prevalent now. We’ve discussed reacting to ignorant comments by classmates before, but we haven’t discussed what happens when your instructor holds ideas that put your educational goals in peril. Meaning, what can you do when you’re being taught by a professor who encourages “debate” or espouses beliefs that question your humanity. What do you do if they use bum science and bad studies to openly claim that women are inferior in STEM or that certain races are smarter than others? What do you do if they’re tenured? What do you do when you’re one of the only people of color in the classroom? How do you survive these so-called academic discussions? Or even if the professor keeps it out the classroom, how do you know their bias won’t impact your grade? Or your ability to network in their expert field? If they’re administration, how do you work around them so that they don’t implement policies that hinder W/POC?

First and foremost, it’s sucks and is unfair that the onus is on us, but we can argue about who should do what or we can create a plan of attack so that you, and others after you, are successful in law school right now.

One. Push back. If you have a professor who promotes views/writes papers where the purpose is to question the intellect and ability of people of color you need to push back and be a big fucking squeaky wheel. It won’t be easy. The professor may have tenure, the administration may be too worried about limiting academic freedom, or (and this may be the biggest case) many may think that people of color just need to have thicker skin. But if you flag this issue and demand assurances (i.e. how is the school guaranteeing that this professor’s biases aren’t impacting your grades) then you may be able to create a barrier of protection.

Two. Speak up. This may be the toughest part because you may need to speak up in a classroom where you are the only voice. But remember that your humanity is not up for debate.  So if a professor encourages conversation that presupposes that all immigrants are criminals, or that one race is superior, or that there’s only a wage gap because women can’t handle high-stress jobs (all apparently “okay” positions to take nowadays) be ready to say something–even if your voice shakes. Make your presence known so that they know you won’t be intimidated.

Three. Connect. None of this is easy–and the worst part is so many SO MANY of these professionals feign a position of neutrality. “I’m not racist, I just like to discuss studies that happen to claim my race is superior. What’s wrong with that?!” And there are really some people out there that are so academic that don’t see (or care to see) that these topics aren’t abstract and have real impact on our lives. So you have to connect with other like-minded students. Reach out to other Latinx students, if your school’s group isn’t active–reach out to other local law schools; and if there’s no other local schools, go national and join the HNBA. Create that support so that you have that safety net and anchor when things get tough.

Two side notes: I’m sorry to say that you can’t always depend on faulty of color. They won’t always be down–hello, how often do you bite the hand that feeds you? That’s why you have to expand your net so that your support is student, alumni, and the local Latinx legal community. Additionally, if you’re pre-law, do your due diligence and research your professors. I’ll admit, I would have never thought to do that when I was starting, but it’s a new day– if you find something that gives you pause take that into your consideration as you decide on what law school to attend.

I hate that this sounds so negative, but this isn’t hyperbole. We’re at a crossroads. I mean, there’s someone occupying the White House that is a straight up Nazi sympathizer. And there are still many, many people–future and current colleagues that are ok with this behavior. You have to grow used to speaking up, pushing back, and protecting one another because this is going to be our new normal.

2 thoughts on “When Your Professor is Racist

  1. Thank you for this piece. As a rising 2L Latina at UCLA Law, I really appreciate the message of empowerment that is reiterated in all your posts. I was one of the few outspoken students of color last year and it was arduous and exhausting, on top of the oppressive workload of 1L year. But I will gladly take that on again this year if other students of color continue to feel assured that one of their own is fighting for space for their narratives and experiences.

    1. Thanks for commenting! It is so hard to speak out and I appreciate your willingness to take a stand because it does make a difference! La lucha sigue!

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