Open Conversation on Diversity: Immigrants and Refugees

February 7, 2017 | By Alexa Brown — Around 80 students, faculty, and staff gathered at this month’s Open Conversation on Diversity: Immigration & Refugees. Dean of Graduate Programs Al Sturgeon  heads the Open Conversation programs and sets the tone each time as “a place to be able to talk about things in the world while still at law school, hear all viewpoints, and engage in civil dialogue.” He began by reading an article produced by the BBC titled, “Trump Ban: ‘everyone matters to god’ religious groups say.” The conversation was then opened up “living room style” to attendees.

Discourse revolved around Trump’s recent executive orders as well as the effects felt in the United States and beyond. Discussion in the room revealed many perspectives and emotions. Topics included:

  • Thoughts on the forthcoming University Statement: what it should and shouldn’t include, as well as thoughts on the Law School issuing a separate statement.
  • Personal stories: tales of being directly affected in the days following the distribution of executive orders.
  • Questions: What are direct issues we see? What can we, as law students, do?
  • Personal viewpoints and feelings.

Sturgeon commented on the latest talk, “We have hosted several open conversations at the law school for our student body over the past two years, and this was by far the most significant turnout and participation. I think that is telling. It is important for our community to have spaces for dialogue, and I especially appreciate the opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to be in the same place at the same time discussing the pressing issues of our time. We have much to learn from one another, and I am proud that our students are able to engage in impassioned but respectful dialogue as we consider how to lead the world toward positive change.”

President of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) Brittany Porter commented on the nature of this particular Open Conversation:

“It has been my experience that we cannot incite true progress without discussion. It is far too easy to avoid difficult conversations out of fear of being uncomfortable. However, as future lawyers, we need to embrace this feeling. As distinguished alumni, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. often says, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.‘ Thus, I am happy that Pepperdine permitted us space this past week to discuss the Trump administration’s immigration ban. It was a great opportunity to hear from all perspectives. Most significantly the discussion offered many “teachable moments” for students of privilege to hear from those that find themselves on the side of oppression. The importance of the event was further solidified from the physical reactions of those in attendance. As students and faculty shared their perspectives, tears were shed and voice inflections at certain points were raised. These emotions evidenced the seriousness of the subject matter. It is my hope that Dean Sturgeon and the rest of the Pepperdine faculty continue to support these open conversations by providing students a platform to speak on current (albeit sometimes uncomfortable) issues.”

When asked her thoughts on the matter, Professor and Director of the Restoration and Justice ClinicTanya Cooper offered the sentiment that “We need to and can do more to help the students feel supported.” She encouraged the further creation of room for dialogue amongst the Law School, and alluded to faculty awareness of students wanting to address current political issues in core classes as well as promoting a respectful and inclusive environment.

The day following the Open Conversation, Pepperdine President Andrew Benton issued a University-wide statement regarding “Immigration Impacts on Our Campus Community.” In it, he reiterates the University’s values, and points students to a FAQ’s page created by the University. He also cites a letter addressed to, “the new secretary of Homeland Security expressing our grave concern for the safe and dependable passage to and from this country for all students, with special attention to our international students.”

From Pepperdine Law’s Mission Statement:

“The school’s Christian emphasis leads to a special concern for imbuing students with the highest principles of professional, ethical, and moral responsibility. An effort is made to call together a faculty, staff, and student body who wish to share this experience of quality legal education in a value-centered context. It is the philosophy of the School of Law that lawyers best serve the interests of their clients, as well as the interests of society, when they possess a genuine commitment to high standards of personal conduct and professional responsibility. Therefore, the school tries to convey to its students not only the knowledge of how to employ the law, but also an awareness of the responsibilities to society that accompany the power inherent in that knowledge.

The faculty and administration of the School of Law are committed to the proposition that the way in which they approach students, both personally and professionally, will shape the student’s perception of the law and the role of lawyers. Both faculty and administration must, therefore, adhere to the highest standards of moral and ethical conduct, exhibit a concern for the total education and personal well-being of students, and uphold the ideal of the personal dignity of each individual. One significant manifestation of this faculty and administrative role is the emphasis placed on counseling students. Both faculty and administrators continually reaffirm their commitment to serving the needs of students and to being available to students. The faculty and administration believe that this role model concept is integral to improving the profession and accomplishing the mission of the law school.”

These Open Conversations are a part of Pepperdine Law’s ongoing effort to promote diversity and inclusion, including events like Diversity Week and “faith discussion dinners” held by the Interfaith Student Council.

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