Yale Law School’s New Racial Justice and Law Center Tackles Local Issues

Directors of the law school’s Center for Law and Racial Justice talk about one of the center’s goals: to expand accessibility to legal education at the local level.


Staff reporter


Karen Lin, photo editor

The Center for Law and Racial Justice at Yale Law School tackles issues at the grassroots level through its Law School Access Program.

The Law School Access Program engages New Haven area students and adults interested in the legal profession. The two-year program is led by current Yale Law School students and includes one-on-one mentoring sessions, LSAT coaching, and application training so scholars can successfully apply and attend law school. . The initiative, led by law professor James Forman, Jr. LAW ’92, welcomed its first class of fellows last year. The program is housed at the Center for Law and Racial Justice, which brings together members of the New Haven law school and community to focus on advancing racial justice.

“We hope this program will provide individual mobility and over time will have a collective impact,” Forman said. “My dream is that in the future, when you go to the New Haven courthouse, you will see a more diverse legal community, and many of those people will be able to trace their beginnings back to the Lawyers program.”

The Law School Access Program deals with the notions of individual mobility and community empowerment. It is designed to give first-generation students, students of color and immigrant students — “people who have traditionally been excluded or have not had full access to legal education” — a chance to become lawyers. , Forman said.

One of the 20 inaugural fellows, Akia Callum, praised the program for “nurturing [her] academic development” and for giving him “an extra push and motivation to accomplish [her] legal dreams.

Since joining the program, her LSAT score has improved by 14 points and she has been accepted to four law schools and waitlisted by three others, she said.

“The one-on-one approach the A2LS program takes with the pairing of current law school mentors, an admissions support mentor, tutoring, and Saturday academies not only advances my personal belief in racial equity by increasing access for students of color to attend law school, but also prepares them for their journey of study, applications, internships, and next steps after acceptance into law school,” Callum said.

Nina Oishi LAW ’22, one of the teachers at the Center for Racial Law and Justice who has participated in the Access to Law Program for the past two years, said the most rewarding part of her time at the center was to be able to work with comrades.

According to Oishi, many Fellows have children and some have been involved in the criminal justice system in the past — two traits that Oishi says don’t define Fellows.

“They are brilliant, they work incredibly hard, they are dedicated to making a difference, and they bring a perspective that the legal field desperately needs,” Oishi said.

Oishi said she wanted to work in the area of ​​public interest law and that this job made her realize that so many important voices are being kept out of the legal profession due to barriers to legal education.

“Lawyers can’t bring change if we keep closing the door behind us, and the program works both small and large to dismantle that,” Oishi said.

Shariful Khan LAW ’22, one of the program’s advisors, helped Forman find the project and told the News he felt he was ‘validating’ that the law school takes racial justice seriously. .

“It’s empowering to be in a space with other students who also care about, say, civil rights, economic justice or consumer litigation, and who understand the role race plays in all of these areas. “Khan said.

Khan said the program reminded him of how “wonderful” people can be, despite the many challenges some scholarship recipients face. Through the program, he said he has a unique ability to work with fellows – as opposed to, say, a public defender, who can only “do his best [within the confines of] a broken system.

The center’s first executive director, Kayla Vinson ’11, told the News that she was a public school teacher when she first encountered the intersection of education and the criminal justice system. She soon realized that during her time at Yale College, she had been taught to develop “individual-centered” leadership skills. Her time as program director made her realize how important it is to “hold a space where leadership is about collaboration.”

The center is developing more projects for the future, including one in which it works with Yale Adjacent Neighborhoods and other members of the New Haven community to support incarcerated men at the New Haven Correctional Center who are often “neglected.” and ignored,” Forman mentioned.

Forman told the News he hopes to build more bridges between Yale and the community surrounding the university. He also said he hoped to expand the conversation to Yale College students as well.

“If you’re interested in a place that’s action-oriented, community-oriented, and has a local focus,” Forman said. “If this speaks to you, then come and contact us because we want to be a place for you.”

Yale Law School is located at 127 Wall St.

Jon J. Epps