Paths Forward to Address Structural Racism


A Message from Dean Diller

Dear Fordham Law Community,

I wanted to follow up on my initial email concerning the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African Americans by law enforcement. These horrific incidents are not isolated. Rather, they result from structural bias and a culture of racism that infects policing. It is vital to the rule of law that we hold accountable individuals who abuse their power. It is also vital that we address the structural racism that enables and protects those who abuse authority.

Structural racism infects our society’s other institutions as well, including Fordham Law. This is a moment that calls for both self-reflection and action. At the Law School, we have not addressed these issues forcefully or urgently enough. Today, I announce three paths that we will move forward on to address structural racism in our community and to combat racism in society more generally. They are:

  1. expanding the diversity of our community and enhancing support systems for these diverse students;
  2. working to fundamentally change the environment at Fordham Law to make our community more welcoming and inclusive; and
  3. committing as a community to fighting for racial justice in our society in the best tradition of “in the service of others.”

My hope is you will join me in implementing and supporting these efforts to begin to counteract structural racism at Fordham Law.

I. Expanding the Diversity of our Community and Enhancing Support Systems

A. Today, at the initiative of our faculty, we are launching a new fundraising campaign to significantly expand scholarship and academic support for students who are members of underrepresented groups. To launch this campaign, more than 50 members of the faculty have pledged donations.

B. Making our student body more reflective of our society is critical to the mission of the Law School. We will recommit ourselves to expanding the diversity of our student body by reforming our processes for recruiting and admitting students.

C. We will expand our commitment to building the pipeline of diverse students coming to Fordham Law by nurturing interest in legal careers among students at the high school and college levels. Specifically, we will take steps to provide graduates of the IDEAL program with expedited consideration in our admissions process. IDEAL is a new program launched last year through the leadership of the Diversity Committee that focuses on nurturing underrepresented undergraduates from the CUNY system.

D. We will redouble our commitment to adding faculty members who broaden the diversity of the faculty.

E. We will expand counseling and support for students of color. I am excited to announce that Jennifer Haastrup, M.S.W., has recently joined us. She is focused on diversity and inclusion in the Office of Student Affairs, and she will enable the office to offer substantially expanded programming in the fall.

F. We are in the process of creating a support program for incoming J.D. students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in law school including underrepresented racial, ethnic, geographic, socioeconomic, and first generation college backgrounds.  We will connect these students with current students of color, faculty, administrators, and alumni on a regular basis to support them as they navigate an already challenging experience.

II. Making Fordham Law Welcoming and Inclusive

I have been listening to our students and I know that too many students of color do not feel embraced and supported by Fordham Law and instead feel isolated and marginalized. We will renew and deepen our commitment to ensuring that students of color are welcomed into our community and are fully supported. In addition to delivering on the promises outlined below, we will continue to explore and implement additional means of moving Fordham Law beyond the structural racism that has impacted the experiences of students of color as well as of staff and faculty.

A. We will reconceive the program on diversity and inclusion we launched last January—mandatory for all first year students—to focus on anti-racism.

B. We will expand the training we provide to our full-time and adjunct faculty to include issues of anti-racism, unconscious bias awareness, and cultural competence in order to create a culture of inclusion in the classroom. Past programs have not been mandatory, and they now will be.

C. We will require all staff to participate in diversity and inclusion education to ensure greater sensitivity to the needs and perspectives of students of color, and we will provide opportunities for staff to participate in discussions surrounding anti-racism and issues relating to social justice.

D. We will make an institutional commitment to providing our faculty with the resources to ensure that issues of race and gender can be explored in all courses in the basic curriculum, and we will encourage and support them in doing so. We will also create more opportunities to hear a critical race theory perspective at the school.

E. We will be establishing a Dean’s Student Advisory Council on Diversity. To create a continuing process to identify concerns and implement change, student members will meet regularly with me to discuss diversity-related issues.

F. We will launch a series of Fordham Dialogue Days—programs that challenge all members of Fordham Law to engage in open discussion in small groups together on social justice issues.

G. We are in the process of developing a comprehensive strategic diversity plan for the Law School that will guide our initiatives over the coming years. In developing this strategic plan, we will conduct a race audit to identify sources of persistent racial inequality and steps to alleviate structural discrimination.

III. As a Law School that Works “in the Service of Others” We Commit Ourselves to Fighting Racism and its Manifestations.

The motto of Fordham Law is “in the service of others.” We are committed to addressing racial injustice while responding to the needs of directly impacted individuals. Through our Public Interest Resource Center, we have  27 student led pro bono projects dedicated to advancing social justice. Our prominent centers and institutes, many of which focus on issues relating to racial justice, include the Center for Race, Law and Justice, already a national leader in the field. Fordham is committed to supporting and growing the Center for Race, Law and Justice even more. These initiatives provide faculty, students, and alumni with a wide range of growing opportunities to actively engage in the struggle for racial justice. While racism intersects with all of our ongoing public service work, there is an urgent need to expand our work to specifically address racism in policing and the criminal justice system.

Student leaders are focusing on anti-racism work and identifying important BLM Support Resources for Law Students for further action. For example, students can:

Fordham Law was founded to expand opportunity for those who had traditionally been excluded from the legal profession. At the same time, we have significantly more work to do to ensure that all of our students, especially those from underrepresented communities, experience an environment that is supportive and conducive to learning. Our justice mission also demands that as an institution we place a priority on rooting out racism in our communities and our nation. Moving forward requires deep reflection on our past and thoughtful collaboration on building a strong community that is racially just and inclusive. The steps we take today are a start of a path forward that will help our students, our profession, and our society.


Matthew Diller
Dean and Paul Fuller Professor of Law


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