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First-year law students petition for anti-racist action after assistant dean’s remark about Black cops

AD Faherty expresses regret, students call for equity training, further discussion
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The Jackman Law Building houses U of T’s Faculty of Law. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
The Jackman Law Building houses U of T’s Faculty of Law. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

A group of first-year students in U of T’s Faculty of Law wrote a letter to Dean Jutta Brunnée addressing systemic racism within the faculty and providing a list of actions and recommendations for the faculty to undertake. 

The letter came out in response to a remark made by the assistant dean of the Faculty of Law, Sara Faherty, during a joint professionalism seminar for first-year law students held on Zoom in January called “Critical Race Theory: Racism in Society and the Justice Sector.” 

According to the letter, U of T’s director of the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO), Jodie Glean, in discussing intersectionality in the Black Lives Matter movement, asked participants to give examples, to which Faherty wrote using the chat function, “how about african american cops’ roles?” 

According to the letter, students in attendance followed up on Faherty’s comment; however, their queries were left unrecognized by Faherty by the close of the presentation. 

The letter notes that the comment “[redirected] questions of police brutality away from systemic white supremacy.” The letter continues that the comment represents an example of “whataboutism,” which refers to raising a different accusation in response to a difficult question, a concept which Glean had spoken about earlier in the presentation. Additionally, according to the letter, the comment is not an example of “intersectionality.”

A U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity, “Assistant Dean Faherty expresses her regret for  the comment and its impact on those in attendance.”

Petition formation

The petition was created by first-year law students, with the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) contributing by providing support during the review process and exchanges with the Faculty of Law administration regarding the petition. Additionally, some of the first-year students who contributed in writing the letter were members of the BLSA. 

Although the letter cites this instance as an example, it emphasizes that this was not an isolated comment, but that it is part of wider patterns in the faculty that need to be improved. In the spirit of this wider acknowledgement, the end of the petition included a list of suggestions for the Faculty of Law.

The calls to action included an apology from Faherty regarding the comment, implementation of effective “equity training” for faculty members, acknowledgement of the oppression that the law inflicts on minoritized communities in all areas of the curriculum, and incorporation of the types of discussions that occurred in the Joint Professionalism Trainings into regular class time to emphasize their central importance. 

Alisha Krishna, a first-year law student, said in an interview with The Varsity that “it’s not about… calling out one person or criticizing them specifically; it’s really starting a conversation about the culture, both in the faculty and at large.” Krishna added that “it’s about the conversation that happens afterward.”

Meaza Damte, another first-year student in the Faculty of Law, reflected similarly in an article for Ultra Vires. They spoke of the lost opportunity for the comment: “What could have been a teachable moment took a turn for the worse, but it did not have to. What should have been a safe space for discussion, learning, unlearning, and growth quickly became one of outrage and resentment.

Krishna confirmed that the petition was sent to the dean and that “she’s been open to dialogue, and we’re really appreciative of her open-mindedness.” They added that, “We didn’t see any commitment from the [administration], especially with things like faculty training. But we remain optimistic.”

Faculty response 

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson issued a statement regarding the petition. “Unfortunately, neither Assistant Dean Faherty nor Ms. Jodie Glean saw the comments and questions from students in the chat function until after the session.”

The statement also indicated that there were exchanges being made between the Faculty of Law and the ARCDO to address the situation, as well as how to proceed. The statement ended with the assertion that there would be “extended opportunities to clarify, explore and discuss” in the future.

The statement did not include any specifics regarding the faculty’s intentions to act on the four broader requests made in the petition, except for the call for an apology. However, it is unclear whether the statement includes an apology to Glean too, as requested in the petition.