Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger has announced several new initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. The move comes after a summer of controversial remarks from Penn Law professor Amy Wax.
The initiatives include the formation of a student advisory board, alumni advisory board, and a newly appointed associate dean for inclusion and engagement. Ruger sent an email late last month to the Penn Law community to introduce structural changes to Penn Law's Office of Inclusion and Engagement, which was established in May.
"We recognize that these expanded programs carry increased urgency this semester as they come in the midst of a time when our school, and our nation, have been called upon to confront increasingly extreme and exclusionary rhetoric," Ruger wrote in the email.
In July, Wax spoke at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference, where she claimed that immigrants are responsible for an increase in “litter,” and America would be "better off" if it were dominated by Western people. In response, thousands signed a statement released by the Latinx Law Students Association demanding the removal of Wax from her teaching duties.
Ruger released a statement denouncing Wax’s past remarks, and wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that supporting a diverse student body and faculty is one of Penn Law's "highest institutional priorities."
Though the alumni advisory board is currently active, the student advisory board has not yet been formed.
“All of these leadership teams will convene regularly to discuss issues impacting the community and recommend inclusion strategies to further a culture of belonging at Penn Law,” Ruger wrote.
Third-year Penn Law student JiLon Li said he is hopeful about the new student advisory board, but also wants to see actions that indicate that Penn Law is “invested in more than discussion and talk.” Li is also the co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, which sponsored LALSA’s statement on Wax.
Li added that he hopes the board will produce "tangible takeaways," such as a physical space for students of color in Penn Law or cultural intelligence training during student orientation.
"I think that there needs to be a lot of consciousness by both the students and the administration that, yes it’s good that this [advisory board] was formed, but it shouldn’t be a thing that is formed and that doesn’t bring results,” Li said.
Li also said he thought Penn Law could have responded more strongly to Wax’s statements, such as opening an investigation into whether Wax violates Penn Law’s commitment to equal opportunity for students.
Second-year Penn Law student Sharon George, who is the president of the South Asian Law Students Association, said she hoped to see increased funding and promotion by Penn Law for affinity groups serving students of color. George said that Ruger and other deans at Penn Law have been “very willing” to discuss improvements surrounding diversity and inclusion.
“I don’t find Professor Wax to be a useful point of conversation ever just because it’s boring and I think she does it for attention,” George said.“I’m far more interested in working to build spaces for minority students that support them.”