November 17, 2016 | By Alexa Brown — With post-election emotions high, the Humanist Legal Association partnered with the LGBT Law Society, the Black Law Students Association, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the Latino and Latina Law Students Association, and the Environmental Law Society to host a Post Election Forum earlier this week. Speakers included Dean of Students Steve Schultz, Professor Naomi Goodno, Dean of Graduate Programs Al Sturgeon, Executive Director of Malibu Labor Exchange Oscar Mondragon, and Dean Deanell Tacha. The forum was moderated by Ben Emard of Pepperdine Law’s Humanist Legal Association.
Tyler Brown: Safety Pin Movement
To begin, Tyler Brown (of LGBT Law Society) addressed the “safety pin movement.” As safety pins were passed around the room, Tyler explained that wearing one was a way to highlight oneself as an ally for, or stand in solidarity with, minority groups. Furthermore, it is to represent the willingness to go as an advocate and take action on behalf of said minority groups.
Dean Schultz: “At some point, I will engage.”
Dean Schultz then took to the podium: “This is the hardest talk I’ve thought about giving. First of all, it is heartening to see all of you here. I want to thank the groups for putting this together. It gives me hope to see you all gathered together during this dark time. Like so many, my range of emotions runs from anger to depression, and depression seems to have taken the biggest hold on me. In the course of life we all experience profound losses: breakups, loved ones. This to me feels like those events. What’s really hard for me emotionally is the way I’ve felt about other losses. At those other times I could intellectually process that time would bring healing. Unfortunately, with the current state of things, every time I open the newspaper or watch the news I am confronted. How is time going to heal this for me? I’m not sure.
In the short run, I’ve decided to completely disengage—this is how I am processing. I have stopped watching the news and reading the newspaper, and I’ve poured myself into work. I know this is not healthy in the long run, but this is how I am coping with the issue at this moment. Can I use a little bit of gallows humor here? I think about how for 47 years of my life, I wanted more than anything else for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series. And then a week later… [he trails off as the room erupts in laughter].
You know, I teach Employment Law. As people have learned in class, if someone said one or two of the things our current President-Elect has spoken, they would be fired. It’s hard for me to explain that someone who has said hateful things has been elected President. In the short run, I plan to try to comfort individuals, one at a time. We have to comfort each other. We can sit and stare and talk about nothing for all I care [laughter]. When I hear or see injustice at a micro level, I plan to say or do something about it. At some point, I will engage. When I do, I will become even more active than I have been at the past. To those who are hurting at different levels, you are not alone, and you have friends, and I am here to be one of them.”
Ben Emard then introduced Professor Goodno to speak.
Professor Goodno: “I am thankful for checks and balances, free speech, rule of law…”
Goodno: “As many of you know, I am a hardcore conservative. This election, I could not bring myself to vote in the conservative way. I disagree with what that platform ran on. I remember sitting at home and watching that the numbers were not adding up the way I wanted or expected them to. I kept looking at my 3 year old daughter asleep in her crib, and thinking of my son who is 5 who went to the polls with us. I recalled how I always taught them to stand up to bullies, and the next morning I basically had to say ‘hey, we have a lot of standing up to do’. I would never allow my kids to say those words [heard in the election]. It’s disheartening. [After the election results] I was so upset—how was I supposed to teach a class?
Then, I remembered that once a youth pastor told me ‘when you get really upset or angry, start making a list of things you are thankful for.’ So I did.
I am thankful for checks and balances, free speech, free press, the rule of law, a peaceful transition of leadership even if it is not the leader I voted for. I am thankful for the independent judiciary that’s already in place, anti-discrimination laws, people serving who are of diverse religion, gender, and race. I am thankful for the right to vote, and the popular vote, even though it is symbolic. I am thankful that in this country, this kind of division exists and yet we are still peaceful. You, you had your reasons for coming to law school. This is the time to be aware. You are going to be the people who guard the rule of law. Lawyers have changed the history and course of this country. They have fought and are still fighting for the rights of the disabled, minorities, immigrants, refugees, equal protections, children.
Don’t be disheartened, be strong. This is the time to become a lawyer, because they go on to become politicians, judges, and advocates. You are studying to be a fighter for freedom and for the rule of law. I want you to be united and stronger than you ever have been in your life. This [first year of law school] is the hardest year. It feels irrelevant but it is not the time to lose focus. Now more than ever is the time to know this material back and forth. Be proud of yourself for doing the small things now, so that you can become a lawyer and change the course of history. My prayer for you is to focus on your grades, and be the best law students you can be. We need the best lawyers we can get. I am praying for you and for us. Be focused, strong, passionate, respectful, and love each other. Seek opportunities to serve, and have the courage and wisdom to see them through. You can make a difference. We are divided and need healing to take place, and you are situated to do that. Be a player in the right side of history. You start that today, and I am so honored to get to be with you guys as you get to do that.”
After the passionate morale boost given by Goodno, Dean Sturgeon stood to address the room.
Dean Sturgeon: Martin Luther King Jr. on the “jangling discords of this nation”
Sturgeon: “A week ago, last Tuesday, I went to an election night party—weirdest party I’ve ever been to [students chuckle]. Wednesday, I went to Chipotle and ran into a group of students. One was a Muslim international student who explained to me in tears that she had began to pack. I see real fears in this room. I hope you all know I love you all very much — as we all do. On coming here to talk to you today, I thought of 4 years ago exactly when the 2012 election took place. At the time, I wrote on King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech: ‘With this faith we will be able to turn the jangling discords of this nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’ He was reaching beyond legal status and was reaching towards this world that seems unattainable, where people see each other as brothers and sisters, as family. He was seeing this in a time where people were lynched, and murdered. He able to talk about loving those seen as the enemy. Four years ago we were still so full of jangling discord—we see that still today. I for one, humbly submit to the dream King held out to us all; to work towards a day where not only the law is right but we see each other as family. I thought I’d bring along a friend, from the Malibu Community Day Laborers to speak with the voice of someone who has witnessed injustice first hand. He was a good friend of Cesar Chaves, and on the board for farm workers. He has seen a lot of injustice, and is a man of peace and wisdom. Please welcome Oscar Mondragon.
Oscar Mondragon: “I spent about 20 yrs of my life working with farm workers and Cesar Chavez. Today, you want to do something called justice. So how do you do it? Legal means? Civil disobedience? With the election I didn’t feel fear. I didn’t think ‘what are we going to do about these things?’ I am thinking there are winners and losers, supposedly. But are there? We must think: what are the problems pushing the people who voted for Trump? Are they showing pain? In order to unite, we have to understand the other side. Why do they do what they do? A good friend of mine told me once there are 3 things in the question of truth: 1 truth, your truth, and the truth. We have a bigger task than to resist, we have a task to understand what is happening to our country. The important thing is how do we go from here. more than just talk. We have the challenge and compassion to see we are one country. We need to start humanizing the other side. What happens to them? Their families? How do we together help in the famous pursuit of happiness?
Next, Dean Tacha spoke.
Dean Tacha: “Good leaders aren’t only the folks elected to office.”
Tacha: “I think perhaps the word ‘privilege’ has been thrown around too much. It is different in each person’s eyes. What is really at stake is the question of feeling respected and heard by people who make the decisions. I’ve said it before, but I feel like the grandma of this law school, and you are all part of my brood. I am going to be here for you as are your alumni from all over the world and your faculty, because with the perspective of time, one understands that it’s that family, community, and caring for each other that will bring understanding to the misunderstood voice.
You know what kept me up [during this election]? That there are voices out there that I didn’t hear. There are hurt people I didn’t understand. Many of you are among them. I’m hurt—that glass ceiling has been up there for a long time and I’m getting old so it’ll have to shatter fast. Now, it’s about how we come together to respect every viewpoint and giving ourselves freedom and liberation to be ourselves with each other, which is the most important thing human beings can do. We cannot be part of those shutting down other voices or not hearing. For if lawyers are anything, they are the people who listen with the most care, understand feelings with the most empathy, and curate thoughtful responses. You don’t need to agree, but you do need to listen. We don’t all share beliefs, but we do share a lot of things. We believe in one nation and one people; we believe in the rule of law and in peaceful resolution of disputes. Good leaders aren’t only the folks elected to office. You are a leader. We will all be leaders going forward. We don’t know what the future holds, but in this school we are going to unite, be available, and have room to talk, because we need it. Let no voice be stifled, no viewpoint be overcome by emotions of the moment.”
Ben closed by thanking both speakers and students for converging on such an important topic. He also urged students to take action and seek opportunities to help, such as taking part in the school’s clinic programs for underprivileged individuals or seeking externships.