Law Professors

Law prof finds a teaching moment in student criticism of her Black Lives Matter T-shirt

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black T-shirt

Wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt does not demonstrate that someone hates all white people, and to assume so is factually flawed, a Whittier Law School professor wrote to students in a two-part memo, after one or more anonymous students complained that her campus attire was “inappropriate” and “highly offensive.”

Patricia Leary got the complaint in an anonymous note, Inside Higher Ed reports. Leary was not available for comment, according to the article, but Whittier confirmed that she wrote the memo, which was shared with students. She teaches criminal procedure, according to her memo, and she wore the shirt on a day that the class discussed police violence against the black community.

The note alleged that the statement in question “has been known to incite violence in this country.” The shirt was a distraction, the note said, and Leary’s personal beliefs “have no place in the classroom.”

“Whittier Law School has prided itself on the diverse demographics represented within the student body. Your actions, however, clearly represent your view that some of those demographics matter more than others. That alienates and isolates all non-black groups,” the letter read.

Leary would rather have had the conversation in person, she wrote in her memo, but she can’t, since the author hasn’t made his or herself known. The underlying issues are relevant to the entire law school community, Leary explained, which is why she made the memo public.

“Premise: Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an expression of racist hatred of white people,” Leary’s memo response reads. “Critique: Black Lives Matter is not a statement about white people. It does not exclude white people. It does not accuse white people, unless you are a specific white person who perpetrates, endorses or ignores violence against black people. If you are one of those people then someone had better be saying something to you.”

The Costa Mesa, California, professor also points out that her shirt read “Black Lives Matter,” not “Only Black Lives Matter.”

“If I say ‘Law Students Matter,’ it does not imply that my colleagues, friends and family do not,” she wrote.

And a critique of the anonymous writer’s understanding of professor-student relationships was also given by Leary.

“Premise: You are not paying for my opinion. Critique: You are not paying me to pretend I don’t have one,” Leary wrote. She also pointed out that the note’s author ignored the history behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

“To assert that the Black Lives Matter movement is about violence against the police is to ignore (and invert) the causal reality that the movement arose as an effect of police violence,” Leary wrote.

In the second part of the memo, Leary critiqued the author’s writing. In the future, the student should avoid overgeneralizing; writing in ALL CAPS; be more specific about the remedy he or she is seeking; and use caution with dependent clauses.

“In conclusion, I believe that every moment in life (and certainly the life of law school) can be an occasion for teaching and learning,” Leary wrote in her closing. “Thank you for creating an opportunity for me to put this deeply held belief into practice.”

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