Why is Chapman Law School So Scared of Its Progressive Students?

Tomorrow, Chapman University will hold its first-ever Social Justice Symposium. Titled “Blinded Justice: A Discussion About Whether The Legal System Values and Protects Diverse Communities,” it’ll be held at Kennedy Hall, site of Chapman’s Law School, a program so notoriously conservative that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at its opening and it still counts as affiliated faculty notorious anti-gay pundit John Eastman and media loudmouth Hugh Hewitt.

The symposium, organized by the (deep breath here) Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law Diversity Initiative Symposium and Publication, should be marked as a moment of progress on campus. But instead, progressive students are holding the upcoming gathering of workshops, panels, and speakers as yet another example about how anything hinting at liberalism is dismissed as little better than communism at Chapman and not worthy of school affiliation. 

The struggle goes back to two years ago, when representatives from Chapman various student multicultural organizations got together to push for a diversity initiative.

“We organized ourselves because we felt and continue to feel that Chapman’s current environment doesn’t allow for us to write or organize new spaces for our groups to discuss issues in our communities,” says Hugo Salazar, a third-year student in Civil Rights and Immigration Law and symposium co-chair. One of the proposals they came up with was a law journal that would join the school’s other student-run law publications, the Chapman Law Review and Nexus Publication. With the prospective title Chapman Law School Diversity and Practice Journal, the students got letters of endorsement from various progressive law groups across Orange County, including the local chapters of the Hispanic Bar, Lavender Bar and Thurgood Marshall Bar associations. They presented their efforts to the law school’s curriculum committee, which must sign off on any journal proposals in order for the publication to be affiliated with Chapman.

The Diversity Initiative submitted a 17-page proposal reviewed by the Weekly that laid out its vision and also pointed out in the intro that a 2014 Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) report stated “. . . quantitative and qualitative data . . . indicate that there are many employees who believe that Chapman University is not a place that values diversity. Many of the open ended comments brought attention to the lack of attention, support, or resources devoted to diversity at Chapman.”

“I want the school to get the message that we are a progressive student of color organization that is not going to allow our voice to be ignored,” Salazar says of the idea for the publication. “The journal represents more than just a collection of articles; it is a beacon calling all Orange County progressive attorneys, academics, and activists. “

Slam-dunk, right? Forget it, Jake: it’s Chapman Law School.

“The curriculum committee didn’t support our proposal, then they passed it over to the [law] faculty to vote,” Salazar says. “The group rejected our proposal.” When the students suggested that they wanted to publish the journal outside of the law school, faculty responded that they could not identify with Chapman at all.
The Diversity Initiative has doubled down. They got over 250 surveys of fellow law students supporting the journal idea, whose title has now switched to Law Journal of Social Justice. The Diversity Initiative also began a scholarship, organized a diversity day, and planned the Social Justice summit. With all that in place, they resubmitted the plan for the journal, this time including a letter of support from Chapman Chancellor Daniele C. Struppa, who is slated to become the university’s president when longtime head Jim Doti steps down this year. In addition, Struppa vowed to match the Diversity Initiative’s scholarship fund up to $25,000, and has already committed $5,000.

“I’m glad progressive students of color finally have a partner in the Chancellor’s Office,” Salazar says. “Chancellor Struppa has shown us that there’s a new leader in Chapman who is willing to make our school an inclusive space for all people and points of view.”

The Chapman Law curriculum committee is reviewing The Practice Journal‘s second application; a faculty vote isn’t expected until April.

“It’s sad to see our undergrads and law students who have a hint of progressive views pretty much can’t write or do anything or have a place to organize,” says Salazar, who remains hopeful of the Law Journal of Social Justice’s approval but wary. “That’s why this issue is so important. We’re drawing a line in the sand.”

“Blinded Justice: A Discussion About Whether The Legal System Values and Protects Diverse Communities,” happens tomorrow from 1 p.m.-8 p.m. at Chapman University’s Kennedy Hall Room 238. For more information, visit the event’s website at www.chapman.edu/law/events/symposia/diversity-initiative-symposium/

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