Virtual roundtable focuses on racial equity and the rule of law

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Leaders and experts from Penn State and across the country led a virtual roundtable discussion and community dialogue on Thursday, January 14, that focused on the interconnected topics of policing, race, election security, intersectionality, and the role of law schools and lawyers moving forward. The event, Advancing Rule of Law and Racial Equity, was co-hosted by Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs.

A recording of the event is available online.

Hari M. Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, served as moderator for the panel discussion, which featured five guest speakers:

  • Raquel E. Aldana, professor of law at UC Davis School of Law;
  • Leonard M. Baynes, dean and professor of law at University of Houston Law Center;
  • Margaret Hu, associate dean for non-J.D. programs at Penn State Law, professor of law, professor of international affairs, and Faculty Fellow at the Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences;
  • Michelle Hylton, vice president and associate general counsel at WarnerMedia in Atlanta, Georgia; and
  • Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, clinical professor of law, and founding director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law.

"We were honored to have this extraordinary group of speakers from our community and around the country to share their insights," Osofsky said. "This event was in part about speaking out against hate and assaults on the rule of law, but it was also about how to constructively work together to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism."

Nearly 150 people attended the event to hear from the experts and participate in open discussion, which ranged from recent events—in particular, the January 6 armed assault on the U.S. Capitol—to broader issues such as voter suppression, inequality, white supremacy, attacks on truth and facts, racial bias within U.S. culture and politics, immigration, intersectionality, and more.

”I have been grappling with the emotions of the Capitol Hill attack, disparities with the Black Lives Matter protests and intersections with immigration,” Wadhia said. “I also felt a lot of pain as a mother of school-aged children in a town where buses traveled to the riots and where white supremacist stickers were posted around town, not for the first time. Holding this community dialogue felt both natural and critical. I feel grateful about how the event came together, and I feel hopeful about how our law students can use this moment to change the world.”

The panelists and participants, which included many Penn State faculty and staff, also discussed strategies for how to address these topics in an educational setting and to make sure all students feel safe and supported—a timely topic, with classes set to begin next week.

“As the dean of a law school, I think it's important for us to make sure that our students and faculty understand the issues and are committed to change,” Baynes said. “We can have a great deal of influence on the next generation of lawyers.”

But the onus to affect change is not only on law schools, or even schools in general, as several panelists pointed out when asked the question, Where do we go from here?

“You have to get close to the issues that plague our country in a way that feels authentic to you,” Hylton said. “Each of us has a moral obligation to get involved.”