Statement Concerning June 3 Community Conversation

September 11, 2020

Over the past week, certain corners of the Internet have identified and mischaracterized the events of a community conversation held at Northwestern Law on June 3, together with a few comments made at that event. Although we had hoped not to dignify these mischaracterizations with a response, they continue, with potentially harmful effects both to individual members of our community and to our community as a whole.

Our June 3 community conversation was an important and meaningful gathering of our Law School community, and I fully stand behind that event. Following closely on the murder of George Floyd, the community conversation focused on the topics of racism, allyship, and policing. The program provided a forum to discuss, to try to better understand, and to name the very real impact of racism. Faculty, students, and staff openly shared their experiences. This gathering was part of work that needs to be done to examine and address racial injustice in American society generally and within our own community. Northwestern Law is hardly the only institution engaged in this much-needed critical self-examination. I am doing my own reflections, and I am proud of the work that leadership and other members of this community are also doing. I support the organizers and participants in the June 3rd community conversation, and I am grateful for the contribution they made to our community dialogue and understanding. 

Although I am not naïve about technology and the privacy challenges presented in larger group and virtual events, I consider the circulation of a screenshot from the community conversation, particularly without accurate context, to be a breach of trust. Moreover, this was an optional event for the Northwestern Law Community. No one was required to attend, to speak, to write anything in the chat, or otherwise to participate in the event. Deep into the meeting, I acknowledged the continuing effects of systemic racism on and within our community, in response to the pain demonstrated by colleagues and students about whom I care very much. And I continue to acknowledge the effects of systemic racism, while I also understand that others disagree, even as to the definition of racism or racist. As an institution of higher education, we are entitled to disagree with one another. 

Last, but by no means least, Emily Mullin and Sara Sommervold, our colleagues whose comments were revealed along with my own are two of the finest professionals I have worked with. They are individuals of great integrity and empathy. They have my full support, and they should have the full support of our community.

While the breach of trust and mischaracterizations on the Internet might seek to exploit our community’s important and impactful event, they have instead brought attention to our meaningful commitment to address racial injustice. I stand by what we are doing as a community, and I believe that Northwestern Law, together and as individuals, is engaged in an important discussion about who we have been, who we are, and who we hope to be. The discussion will be difficult, it will often be messy, and it will provoke disagreement. We will conduct this self-examination in a spirit of inquiry, of testing ideas, and with respect for disagreement. We are committed to free speech and academic freedom in this inquiry. We undertake that inquiry with the understanding that on the other side of ideas are real people with their own lived experiences. For that reason, we seek to explore these topics with empathy as well.

I invite members of our community who would like to discuss these matters to participate in the Law School forums in which I am making myself available, or to reach out to me directly. 

Jim Speta
Interim Dean

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