Critical Race Theory: Inside and Beyond the Ivory Tower


The history of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is inextricably intertwined with the history of student activism on law school campuses.  This activism was sparked in resistance to the dominant legal education system and done with the goal of cultivating alternative spaces where law students could learn how to tackle and dismantle the seemingly permanent structures of subordination in the United States legal system.  In this Essay, we review that history at Harvard Law School: from the students who founded CRT in the 1980s to the students who are working to bring CRT into the curriculum today.  We discuss the organizing effort made by the most recent generation of law students to host two critical race theory conferences in conversation with abolitionist social movements.  In context of the current manufactured national panic against CRT, this Essay offers insight into what CRT may offer for law students seeking to use their skills and education in service of marginalized peoples.  We hope that our stories—and the lessons we are still learning—inspire and galvanize the next generation of students to organize for a more radical future both on and off their campuses.


The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and racism.  The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

Following Derrick Bell’s departure from Harvard Law School (HLS) in 1990, decades of law students—primarily students of color—have led activist, litigious, and rebellious efforts to compel HLS to provide a substantive curriculum on race and law and to hire faculty members of color.[2]  Notably, in the Spring of 1983, a coalition of students led by Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda organized their own fourteen-week Alternative Course titled Racism and the American Law.  The course was based on Bell’s textbook, Race, Racism and American Law, and received support from outside scholars and HLS faculty.[3]  This effort was “designed both to show the HLS administration that talented and qualified minority legal scholars [did] exist and to enable interested students to learn about racism and the development of civil rights litigation.”[4]  The Alternative Course is widely regarded as one of the catalysts that sparked the Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement.[5]

Despite decades of organizing and contrary to current public debate, most law schools, including Harvard, have not offered CRT courses,[6] hired faculty specializing in CRT, or increased the number of tenured to faculty members of color.[7]  While the CRT origin story has been documented by those who participated in it,[8] this Essay describes another piece of the ongoing struggle[9] to solidify the place of CRT and race-conscious analysis in legal education and legal academia.  This Essay tells the story of a coalition of students—who are mostly first-generation, queer, women, and racial minorities—who carried the CRT torch of student activism by organizing the First and Second Annual Critical Race Theory Conferences[10] at HLS (HLS CRT Conferences).  Our goal in organizing the conferences was to create a space for law students to learn about how structures of subordination are maintained in the United States legal system as well as to learn how we, as law graduates, can work to dismantle these structures in service of social movements.  In the end, the organizing process and the conferences themselves became acts of rebellion against a status quo legal education—a system that perpetuates inequality and violence in our communities by teaching students how to maintain the structures, logics, and cultures of subordination in law.[11]  The conference also became a radical act of love—an act of “self-preservation, [which is] an act of political warfare”[12]—for our communities surviving and organizing against the legal structures of subordination as well as for our fellow law students committed to justice, and for ourselves.

This Essay speaks to the current and future generations of law students who are advocating for CRT on their campuses and fighting against the staunch opposition to CRT, all while trying to find their place in the legal profession.  As we—the organizers of the First and Second HLS CRT Conferences—try to understand what it means to practice law in a radical tradition[13] with directly impacted communities, we also pause to share some valuable lessons that we have learned and are still learning from our engagement with CRT both on and off campus.  Above all, we hope that this Essay adds fuel to the ancestral fire carried by law students from underrepresented communities on every law school campus.  A fire, likely felt by those reading this Essay, that is pushing them to rebel against the status quo legal education curriculum, envision and build radical futures, and use their legal skills in service of social movements.

 I.  Critical Race Theory and Student Activism

We start by explaining why the HLS CRT conferences were created and their connection to student activism past and present.

 A.  Law School: Sites of Epistemic Struggle and Activism

As we write this Essay, CRT is under attack across country by a manufactured panic to add more fuel to the “culture wars.”[14]  The coordinated effort to censor CRT scholars and its teachings is part of a generations-long commitment to use our legal profession, and our larger education system, to preserve the United States as a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal, and imperialist hegemony.[15]

Dominance of a particular group is maintained by controlling whose narratives are told and heard, and, most importantly, whose stories are not.  Although, as a condition for truth we must allow suffering to speak,[16] the stories of the subjugated are  threats to the status quo and cast as divisive and fictitious.[17]  For example, the recent surge of book bans and furor against CRT in K–12 schools is a testament to the historical and staunch effort to preserve the dominant narrative—rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and colonialism and presented to students as exceptional, colorblind, objective, and meritocratic.[18]  This dominant narrative tells us that the past and present suffering experienced by minority groups is the result of abnormal actions of  individuals, rather  than the cause of our social, political, and economic system.

As French socialist Pierre Bourdieu postures in his “capital” theory, education systems indoctrinate students with the necessary capital (for example, culture, language, customs, dominant narratives and knowledge) to reproduce the logics of subordination necessary to maintain the capitalist nation-state.[19]  Furthermore, Jodi Melamed argues that neoliberalism, as a postmodern intensification of racial capitalism,[20] works to “invalidate the terms of  relationality” (such as narratives and community bonds) and “separate forms of humanity so they may be connected in terms that feed capital.”[21]

Accordingly, all education systems are sites of struggle between the epistemics coveting knowledge in service of structures of subordination and the subjugated—those striving to dismantle these systems of subordination, have their stories told and heard, and embrace their humanity.  Indeed, a key settler-colonial tool of dominance is epistemicide.[22]  For example, the recent surge in anti-CRT legislation across the nation demonstrates a faithful commitment by politicians to protect the curated narrative of the country that excludes historical accounts of colonialism, slavery, structural racism, discrimination, violence against minorities, and how such marginalization continues today.  Policy makers are legitimizing these anti-CRT bans—a structural form of racial gaslighting and racial spectacle[23]—by arguing that these historical accounts make those who descended from the same “race, ethnicity, national origin, or sex” as the oppressors (in this case non-minorities) feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part.”[24]  In all, policy makers and anti-CRT activists argue that such “toxic” historical accounts of our country are causing further “division.”[25]

Law schools, particularly elite ones, are also sites of this epistemic struggle.  Namely, the law school curriculum is critical for maintaining a steady supply of graduates who will uphold the confines of the rule of law to preserve systems of subordination.[26]  Of course, this is not to dismiss the various law school clinics, programs, courses, journals, student groups, and faculty committed to public interest, critical pedagogy, and using law to tip the scales of justice in favor of the subjugated.  Rather, our critique is a recognition that the dominant epistemics of law—the legal pedagogy, knowledge of law, and rationales underpinning law—in the required curriculum are the requisite capital that law schools produce and bestow so that students can attain traditional markers of success in the legal profession and thus replicate the dominant logics and structures of subordination.  Indeed, a student cannot attend law school without completing this required curriculum.

Because the core law school curriculum preserves the dominant structures of subordination by legitimizing, maintaining, and creating inequality and injustice, the move to teach students how law perpetuates subordination strikes at the heart of the colonial project.[27]  That is, a curriculum informed by the experiences of those who are suffering and focused on teaching students how to end such suffering is incongruent with the dominant legal curriculum because teaching such a curriculum would likely result in graduates committed to dismantling the logics and structures of subordination.  In all, our starting framework for organizing the CRT conferences was a shared understanding that law schools are sites of epistemological, political, and social struggle.[28]  Thus, our decision to organize the CRT conferences was an intentional intervention in this epistemological struggle.

 B.  CRT and Student Activism at HLS

Our analysis of legal education derived from our shared experiences as law students.  Many of the conference organizers came to law school with personal and familial experiences of legalized injustice.[29]  We believed that law school would teach us how to wield the law to rebalance the scales of justice.  We quickly realized, however, that law school would not substantively teach us how to use law for just ends.  Though such limited spaces and opportunities do exist at law school, the core curriculum was lacking because it did not have courses or assignments that examine how the law contributes to the subordination of marginalized communities.[30]  We quickly learned that law schools, especially HLS, were designed to teach students that the law is an objective truth, a science, and as a result, that the law itself is a neutral structure that mediates social problems rather than being a problem itself.[31]  For example, the 1L curriculum in Property, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law traditionally focuses on teaching students a general set of rules derived from case law and statutes and applying those rules to abstract hypothetical facts that make no mention of the people involved, their social histories, identities, and communities.[32]  Criminal Law in particular is often recognized as the course that most glaringly omits or minimizes discussions of race, the political aims of mass incarceration and policing as a project of domination and control over minority communities, and the history of racism embedded in our legal system.  Accordingly, law school’s core curriculum teaches students to accept, without question, how and why the law legitimizes injustice, limits relief, and curtails systemic change.

In response to the core curriculum, HLS, like many law schools across the country, has a rich history of student activism.[33]  As many have documented, CRT was born out of student activism at three law schools: UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Harvard.[34]  The HLS CRT Conferences were also born out of student activism.  Beginning in the fall of 2015, Belinda Hall[35] became home to student activism at HLS in the wake of the Ferguson uprisings[36] and the #RhodesMustFall international movement that started in South Africa.[37]  Much like the student activism of the 1980s,[38] the Reclaim Belinda Hall (Reclaim) movement came together out of necessity in response to racist incidents on campus and frustrations with the status quo legal curriculum that contributed to inequality, to demand ideological and faculty diversity.[39]  The Reclaim movement evolved as the organizers grappled with figuring out their politics and demands, studied the history of student activism at HLS, and learned from social movements at work outside of the school.[40]  By the spring of 2016, students occupied Belinda Hall via sleep-ins, demanded material changes to HLS faculty and curricula, and organized teach-ins and their own alternative curriculum rooted in the Black Radical Tradition.[41]  In the wake of Reclaim, HLS created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, removed the controversial Harvard seal that featured the crest of Isaac Royall[42]—a slave owner—and commissioned a memorial to those who were enslaved and through their labor created the wealth that made the founding of HLS possible.[43]  Even though HLS did not meet most of Reclaim’s demands, the organizers noted that the process of organizing spaces for political education and mobilization were catalysts for change themselves.[44]

In the fall of 2017, a new cohort of law students took up the tradition of student activism and joined various student movements on campus, including efforts to unionize graduate students, achieve gender equity in law school, end harassment and discrimination in the legal profession, combat racism on campus, obtain better financial aid policies, establish an HLS diversity and inclusion committee, adopt policies to divest the Harvard endowment fund from prisons, and establish a movement lawyering clinic.[45]  While the history of student activism can span books-length, the point here is that change at law schools is often achieved through organizing led by students.  To continue to facilitate change, it is necessary for students to learn about the history of student activism on their campuses.[46]  CRT is born out of building community through study and struggle, and in resistance to the status quo.  As discussed below, our conferences followed this tradition of student activism by focusing on teaching law students how to use their legal education to contribute to social movements.

 II.  The HLS CRT Conferences

 A.  Organizing the Annual CRT Conferences

In the fall of 2018, a group of friends at HLS, who shared critiques of our legal education, co-organized across student movements and built community outside of the classroom to imagine what it would look like to create our own curriculum to learn how to be lawyers in service of social movements.[47]  We were committed to reforming the school curriculum and to seeing more tenured CRT scholars in our classrooms.  But, being cognizant of institutional inertia and the pushback we would receive, we decided that we would not wait for Harvard to act and instead would design our own intervention.  Since many of us had previously engaged with CRT before law school, we thought that CRT could provide an intellectual and political framework to guide our intervention at HLS.  We also attended conferences at other institutions that inspired us, like the Rebellious Lawyering Conference at Yale in 2019,[48] Critical Race Theory Conference at Yale in 2018 and 2020,[49] LatCrit 2019,[50] the UCLA critical race studies symposia,[51] and various abolitionist gatherings.[52]  Additionally, we thought that the best approach would be to organize an independent conference that existed outside of any existing organization but that was supported by a coalition of similarly-oriented student organizations.[53]

This independent approach allowed us to strategically build widespread support for CRT on campus, obtain a student grant and other funding resources, and demonstrate to the school’s administration that CRT is viable, popular, and important to HLS students.  Accordingly, members of different student organizations pitched the conference to their members, garnered support, and in some instances, served on our organizing committee.  This was no small feat, as many student organizations questioned the political and academic aims of the CRT conference and did not understand how supporting CRT would benefit their memberships.  Indeed, many student organizations were skeptical and decided to withhold support.  Nevertheless, the conference was supported largely by the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), which agreed to fund the conference and make the CRT conference its spring conference—a decision rooted in a history of BLSA leading CRT and student activist efforts at HLS for racial and social justice.[54]

As we organized the conference, we faced many critiques.  Notably, many students did not understand what CRT was and how it could relate to their frustrations about their classroom experiences.  Some student groups were concerned that our conference would turn into a radical political protest led by student activists that could place student organizations against the administration, adversely affecting their funding or future initiatives.  Student groups that traditionally planned independent conferences were reluctant to join our effort, fearing that the CRT conference might overshadow or conflict with their own initiatives.  Others felt the conference would be too academic and thus not applicable to movement work.  In the end, we assuaged all concerns and questions raised by our peers and our conferences were supported by a large and diverse coalition of student organizations.

HLS administrators also had similar concerns because of their experiences with the Reclaim movement.  For example, administrators frequently contacted us about our programming.  One administrator tried to find ways to screen our invited speakers—all of whom were lawyers, professors, and organizers—and made clear that they might require increased police presence at our events.  Administrators also sought to shape our conference content, prevent us from rearranging classroom furniture, and inquired about our plans for off-campus activity and outside funding.  Administrators even forbade us from holding any part of the conference in Belinda Hall.  In the end, we invited the Reclaim organizers for a teach-in in Belinda Hall.

Our working group was composed of multiple students[55] who decided to do away with formal titles to counter the hierarchical legal culture and instead focus all energy on the CRT conference.  We met weekly to discuss CRT scholarship, assess goals, work through challenges, draw connections with ongoing movements on and off campus, and talk about speakers, content, and panels.  The meetings became a space for us to draw up our ideal legal curriculum.  We also received the mentorship of Professors Guy-Uriel Charles and Margaret M. Montoya, renowned CRT scholars.[56]

 B.  Developing Goals for the Conference

Like past student organizers, our weekly planning meetings inquired into our politics and examined how the conference could be used as an intervention in the legal profession.  We decided to use the conference as a gathering where social movement organizers and CRT academics could learn from each other.  Our goal was to offer a counter–pedagogy and counternarrative to the Harvard method, which focuses on abstractly teaching about the law as a scientific inquiry in pursuit of an objective truth and decontextualizes legal decisionmaking and its impact.[57]  Our conference sought to disrupt the Harvard method by centering prescient social issues, discussing how the law perpetuates these issues and ineffectively trains lawyers to address their root causes, highlighting how social movements are tackling these issues, and explaining how lawyers can help.

In developing the conference, we devoted much time to deeply studying CRT as a movement itself.  CRT developed in response to the Critical Legal Studies movement of the 1970s and in response to the shortcomings of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.[58]  Through our rigorous self-study, we realized that while Derrick Bell’s teachings were rooted in the Black Radical Tradition,[59] there were also liberal conceptions of CRT and debates within CRT about its teachings and limitations resulting in multiple off-shoots of CRT.[60]  At the same time, we realized that our analysis of present social conditions and politics went beyond CRT.  Specifically, we grappled with CRT’s disconnection with current abolitionist, decolonial, and anticapitalist global struggles.[61]  As we spoke with abolitionist organizers, many commented that they had either not heard of CRT or did not understand its relevance to their movements.  Instead, abolitionists developed frameworks and teachings that existed alongside and outside of CRT.[62]  For example, Charlene Carruthers notes that they use a Black queer feminist praxis in their organizing efforts, which is “based in Black feminist and LGTBQ traditions and knowledge.”[63]  Still, we also learned about some key overlap between critical race theorists and abolitionists in how both movements understand the permanence of racism embedded in U.S. structures and how liberal legislative reforms and courts cannot dismantle such systems of subordination but, rather, perpetuate inequality.[64]  Moreover, both movements are committed to ending the permanence of systems of subordination through a praxis of political education, scholarship, and community action.

We also understood that the CRT movement emerged out of, and largely stayed in, legal academic spaces with the goal of diversifying legal academia and providing a substantive critique and theory of the law through the focus on race.[65]  Thus, there was a disconnect between the ivory tower and social movements.  We also realized that generations of students and scholars have nurtured the CRT movement forward by adopting it in various disciplines, engaging with its core premises, and critiquing its limitations.  Thus, much like the early CRT scholars, we recognized that we needed new theories and strategies to combat the refined forms of subordination present in our society and we also recognized that we could create the spaces to learn about new theories of change.  So, we decided that the conference would connect abolitionists and critical race theorists to determine how and what they could learn from each other.

A key goal of the CRT conference was to get a CRT scholar hired at HLS who could carry on this work with students long after our conference.  Historically, it has been difficult for CRT, leftist, and minority scholars to enter and stay in academia.[66]  Indeed, the process for becoming a law professor places discriminatory barriers on minorities as institutions continue to covet the same elitist credentials and scholarship.[67]  To achieve our goal, we used the open curriculum and hiring meetings at HLS as an opportunity to advocate for change.  Though the HLS hiring committee and Dean demonstrated some initial hesitancy, they later supported the conference and this goal.  In one meeting, for example, we were told that while they were looking into hiring more diverse faculty, there were not many candidates available.[68]  While we understood that the problem with hiring CRT and diverse faculty at law schools was a systemic failure that started long before hiring committees, we also knew that qualified candidates existed.  Thus, we committed to bringing as many CRT scholars to the conference as possible so that the hiring committee could meet them.  In the end, Dean John Manning opened the CRT conference and attended the scholar roundtable, where he committed to hiring a CRT scholar—a promise later fulfilled by the hiring of Professor Guy-Uriel Charles, in part because of organized student efforts.[69]

Throughout the organizing process, we also reflected critically on our organizing methods and values as well as the contradictions we navigated.  For example, we examined the challenges of working within and outside a hostile law school environment, the difficulties of garnering institutional and grassroots support, the downsides of simultaneous organizing efforts, the value of internal political education campaigns, and intentional efforts to bend white spaces.  Above all, we wrestled with the contradiction of hosting a CRT conference at Harvard Law, which limited access to the public and local social movements, even though our focus was on centering social movements and directly impacted communities.[70]

 C.  The HLS CRT Conferences

The First Annual HLS CRT Conference in 2019 was titled Movement Lawyering: Lessons From and For Critical Race Theory.  It centered on the freedom dreams of social movements and asked: What can CRT teach these movements?  What can CRT learn from these movements?  Our goal was to consider whether CRT was still a viable framework that could be used as an alternative legal education to be in service of social movements.  For example, we invited organizers working to abolish carceral and policing structures, the immigration regime, and capitalist structures to be in conversation with scholars working on issues of reproductive justice, policing, constitutional and election law, housing, environmentalism, and international law.  Before the conference began, we hosted teach-ins during the school’s lunch hour about student activism and CRT history taught by Emanuel Powell (‘19) and Professor Melvin Kelley.  We kicked off the conference with two events to introduce HLS administrators, students, and faculty to CRT scholarship and thinkers: (1) a scholars roundtable co-hosted by Professors Margaret Montoya and Guy-Uriel Charles to discuss upcoming CRT scholarship,[71] and (2) a keynote panel led by Professor Montoya on the origins, developments, and future of CRT.[72]  We concluded the first day with a teach-in by the Reclaim organizers, which gave us the opportunity to learn from and draw connections to past student organizing efforts.[73]  The Saturday sessions included panels that explored models for movement lawyering,[74] conversations about an abolitionist #MeToo movement,[75] a conversation between Black liberation movement organizers and CRT scholars,[76] as well as workshops hosted by Critical Resistance, lawyers, and organizers.[77]  Finally, the conference concluded with a keynote panel between Rachel Herzing, an internationally renowned grassroots prison abolition organizer, and Professor Khiara Bridges from UC Berkeley, moderated by Derecka Purnell, an abolitionist movement lawyer and author.  The keynote focused on lessons that CRT scholars could learn from abolitionist organizing, and vice versa, as well as limits of CRT.  The keynote panel sought to move the CRT movement forward to be in service of current abolitionist organizing efforts.

In all, the first conference taught us that CRT can offer social movements theories for examining systems of subordination that organizers are focused on changing.  Social movements, in turn, can offer CRT grounded lessons on how to tackle systems of subordination, advocate for change, sustain movement, and on the limits of CRT without organizing.  Organizers also offered their own theories developed through their organizing experience that had much to teach CRT scholars.  We learned about the intellectual and political overlap between CRT scholars and organizers, as well as some differences.  For example, whereas some CRT scholars are focused on reforms achieved through legislation and litigation, organizers diverged with a focus on large-scale abolition through grassroots power building.  In the end, CRT scholars were called to action by organizers to think about how their scholarship and position as professors can be in service of social movements, rather than solely academia.[78]

The Second Annual HLS CRT Conference was titled Freedom Dreaming for a Radical Reconstruction, and was meant to build upon the first conference, looking to the future of legal advocacy and how lawyers could contribute to the growing abolitionist and social justice movements in the United States.[79]  While the first conference was a conversation between the past and present CRT and abolitionist struggles, the second conference asked: What futures are we working towards and how do we get there?  The second conference looked back at the Reconstruction Era for inspiration and viewed present social movements as moving us towards a Third Reconstruction—a term used by social movements, politicians, and scholars advocating for large-scale social, economic, and political restructuring to address systemic subordination of minorities.[80]  Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Second Conference was delayed for a year.  Though some of the organizers from the First Conference graduated, other students carried the torch, founded the Bell Collective, and hosted the conference in Spring 2021.

The second conference was opened by Professors Kenneth Mack and Guy-Uriel Charles who discussed the importance of CRT during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the summer of America’s “racial reckoning.”[81]  The conference included panels focused on borders, capitalism, race, and prisons and police and featured conversations between CRT scholars and organizers.  For example, the conversations on “Racial Capitalism” and “Racial Capitalism and Solidarity Economy” with Professor Renee Hatcher, Lisa Owens from City Life/Vida Urbana, and the Boston Ujima Project examined racial capitalism as an economic system that requires inequality, power imbalances, exploitable classes at the bottom, and oppression to function.  The sessions also examined how social movements are presently building alternatives to capitalism and highlighted the need for solidarity economy lawyering, rather than impact litigation.  Critically, since the legal system only serves racial capitalism, traditional lawyering fulfills this aim.  Thus, the dominant model of lawyering, at best, can only help to reduce harm.  Instead, the panel, and the conference, called on students and lawyers to radically imagine how they could use their legal skills to dismantle structures of subordination through organizing.

 III.  The Limits and Opportunities of CRT in Practice

Finally, we reflect on the impact that the CRT conferences have had on the respective careers of some of the conference organizers and authors of this Essay.  We reflect critically, but kindly, on how we are navigating the various roadblocks of the legal profession after graduation, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We highlight how we do and, most importantly, how we do not (or cannot) employ the tenets of CRT that we advocated for as organizers of the HLS CRT Conferences.

Some organizers graduated in May 2020 during what was then the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  Upon graduating, many of us confronted the reality that we could not sustainably do the movement work we envisioned because of systemic barriers, such as lack of intergenerational wealth, high debt loads, and financial obligations to support our family members.  Still, we took jobs across the legal field as judicial clerks, public interest fellows, and law firm associates.[82]  Though we recognize our privilege in having employment options, we also grappled with the limits of the legal profession.  For students who are first generation, immigrants, or from low-income families, the choice to pursue public interest law is not easy because of student loan debt and the financial needs of our families—issues which are themselves compounded by many of the racial and social inequities that we envisioned addressing as CRT-educated lawyers.  More than a year later, we are still grappling with how the legal profession reinforces the dominant legal architecture and limits our ability to act in service of radical social movements.  Specifically, the process for studying for the bar privileges those with the financial resources and time to be able to study for three months.  This further incentivizes law students to work at law firms because they offer generous bar stipends to help cover the costs of the bar exam.  During the pandemic, these financial difficulties were compounded, as the bar was delayed until October 2020, though it would have traditionally been held in July of a student’s graduating year.[83]

Even those of us who did not begin our careers at big law firms have confronted limitations in reconciling CRT teachings with the realities of legal practice.  For example, some of us clerked.  Though clerking provides the unique opportunity to work with a judge on multiple legal issues, there are some limitations designed to preserve the impartiality and public trust of the federal courts.  To illustrate: Federal clerks must agree to abide by the Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks, where Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct “prohibits law clerks from engaging in both partisan and nonpartisan political activity.”[84]  This includes “contribut[ing] funds  to political organizations, candidates or events [or] tak[ing] passive actions that might link [the law clerk] with a political issue, such as displaying a political sign or bumper sticker.”[85]  Notably, a law clerk is cautioned about participating in public advocacy activities that “suggest[] a predisposition as to legal issues or an influence due to the relationship.”[86]

This ethical constraint on political activity outside the workplace is a condition of employment and understandable given the role of a law clerk.  State law clerks also face similar limitations.  Still, there are great benefits to clerking.  Namely, law clerks gain a unique experience on adjudicating a diverse range of complex litigation matters using existing law.  Accordingly, a law clerk can play a sizable role in influencing how a judge views a case, legal issues, and the law.  For example, a law clerk who understands law through a CRT lens may offer a comprehensive perspective on the cases at bar and the law in issue, which can help a judge’s decisionmaking process.  Ultimately, a  clerkship remains one of the most unique ways a recent law graduate can further sharpen their legal writing, research, and analytical skills which they may later leverage in their private or public interest careers.[87]  Indeed, the importance and impact of clerkships is well understood by the legal community, many of whom have focused intensely on cultivating a diverse pipeline to clerkships.[88]  Nevertheless, the race to obtain a federal clerkship still privileges law graduates with the similar elite credentials  and background, which, in turn, impacts who serves as a judge and how judges view the law.[89]

Similarly, public interest law offers practitioners some limited space to reflect on various sociolegal issues from a CRT perspective in their everyday practice.  Lawyers in this space often work directly with individuals, communities, and community-based organizations, and therefore are held to task more directly by their clients and communities.  While public interest law is mission driven and allows lawyers to concern themselves with how the law affects people’s lives, working in public interest law is not necessarily an opportunity to engage fully with CRT.  The extent to which this is true varies widely because many public interest lawyers are litigators who, regardless of their views outside the courtroom, have at least some belief in the legitimacy of legal institutions to work inside the courtroom.  Public interest lawyers try to bend the system to fulfill their clients’ needs.  But because of notions of legal ethics and sometimes organizational politics, they do not have the ability to interrogate whether their clients’ litigation needs align with the greater needs of their communities.  Public interest lawyers also often do not have the space to advocate for their clients in the ways that they would prefer and are instead mired in questions of practice and procedure that simultaneously obfuscate systemic issues and, sometimes, entrench the very injustices they came to fight against.  Public interest law may offer real opportunities to capture the key principles of CRT, but if it remains tethered to the courts as a main tool for reform, it falls far short of the radical practice we envisioned for ourselves.

We also note that, understandably, there are a few opportunities where we could fully practice the CRT teachings after law school.  Namely, law graduates committed to social justice often find themselves working through the myriad of contradictions of living in our capitalist system—a contradiction that critical race theorist and abolitionist scholars and organizers understand all too well.  Ironically, working through these contradictions has also offered us a motivation, and strategic toolkit, for us to build a world where such contradictory barriers do not exist for future generations.  While CRT helped us uncover how the legal profession contributes to systemic inequalities, the HLS CRT Conferences and abolitionists, organizers, and scholars taught us that we must organize for the change that we want to see wherever we find ourselves.  As abolitionist Mariame Kaba teaches, our abolitionist journey requires “being intentionally in relation to one another, a part of a collective, [] to not only imagine new worlds, but also to imagine ourselves differently.”[90]  As such we must intentionally continue to organize in classrooms, courtrooms, workplaces, at home, and in our communities.


In all, the HLS CRT Conferences provided us with an intellectual, social, and political home where we could explore questions about the law, our role as lawyers, and how we can be in service to and understand social movements.  However, the realities of the legal profession have limited our ability and refined our approach to how we practice law in a radical tradition.  While the law and lawyering are not themselves radical, lawyering can be used strategically as a tool for social change.  CRT provides us with an imperfect but helpful vision, analysis, and pathway for doing so.  The key lesson is that if we as lawyers and law students want to achieve the radical futures that we envision, the way to do so is by organizing.  The CRT conferences provided us with this opportunity to organize.  It was not the end in and of itself.  Rather, the process of organizing the First and Second HLS CRT conferences provided us the learning space to build a community where we can radically envision healing futures, deeply study our politics, and develop a radical analysis of the law and lawyering and sharpen our organizing tools to help build these futures.  Unlike the legal curriculum that pretends to be a science, CRT and abolition embrace complexity, contradictions, truth-telling, and humility as a praxis and in resistance to the narratives and logics of white supremacy and settler-colonialism.  In short, organizing the CRT conferences, and CRT itself as an intellectual movement, gave us the opportunity to “love, study, and struggle.”[91]

[1].         Delivered as part of a speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board on March 30, 1967.  5 MLK Quotes Too Radical to White-Wash, City Heights Community Development (Jan. 18, 2021), [].

[2].         See, e.g., Luz E. Herrera, Challenging a Tradition of Exclusion: The History of an Unheard Story at Harvard Law School, 5 Harv. Latino L. Rev. 51 (2002); Students Picket Law Course in Rights Protest at Harvard, N.Y. Times, Jan. 6, 1983, at A16; Jim Chudy, Peaceful Protesters Demand Faculty Changes, Harv. L. Rec., Jan. 21, 1983, at 1.

[3].         These instructors included Richard Delgado, Lizette Cantres, Linda Greene, Neil Gotanda, Charles Lawrence, Denise Carty-Bennia, and Haywood Burns.  The course gained support from Critical Legal Studies (CLS) professors like Duncan Kennedy, Morton Horowitz, and Gerald Frug, who provided students with independent credits for taking the Alternative Course.  See Brad Hudson, TWC Offers Alternative Spring Course, Harv. L. Rec., Jan. 21, 1983, at 1; see also Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Twenty Years of Critical Race Theory: Looking Back to Move Forward, 43 Conn. L. Rev. 1253, 1282 (2011).

[4].         Herrera, supra note 3, at 59–66 (detailing the history of student activism of The Third World Coalition (TWC), composed of students of color, in the late 70s and early 80s on issues of “recruitment of more minority students, faculty and administrators,” and culminating in a series of boycotts, sit ins, and peaceful protests and the fourteen week alternative civil rights course); see also George Bisharat, Third World Students Believe Harvard Law Is Symbol of Bias, Bos. Globe, Feb. 19, 1984, at A.

[5].        See Richard Delgado, Liberal McCarthyism and the Origins of Critical Race Theory, 94 Iowa L. Rev. 1505, 1510–15 (2009) (describing the three CRT origin stories at Berkeley Law, Harvard Law, and a CLS conference in Los Angeles and commenting that while “no one story seems to explain fully why critical race theory arose,” each contributed distinctly to the birth of CRT).

[6].         Harvard Law has offered a one-credit reading group in Critical Race Theory.  Course Catalog: Critical Race Theory Reading Group, Harv. L. Sch., [].  As noted below, following the HLS conferences, HLS now has hired a tenured CRT scholar and is offering CRT courses.

[7].         See Emmy M. Cho, In Decades-Long Push to Diversify Harvard Law Faculty and Course Offerings, Students Seek to Amplify Previously Unheard Voices, Harv. Crimson, (Apr. 23, 2021), [] (describing the historical and ongoing student activism at HLS around hiring diverse faculty, CRT scholars, and a CRT course and explaining that HLS Administration has interviewed few diverse candidates and offered tenure track positions to none).

[8].         See id.

[9].         The term “ongoing struggle” refers to the ongoing efforts by students and scholars to teach CRT in law schools and across other disciplines.  Since 2020, conservatives across the country launched a coordinated campaign against CRT, inaccurately alleging that it was taught in K–12 schools.  These campaigns soon escalated to state legislation.  For example, at the time of this writing, at least thirty-six states have introduced some kind of legislation banning CRT or discussion of race and racism, from being taught in K–12 schools and, in some instances, universities.  See Fabiola Cineas, Critical Race Theory Bans are Making Teaching Much Harder, Vox (Sept. 3, 2021, 11:30 AM), (last visited Mar. 8, 2022); see also Cathryn Stout & Thomas Wilburn, CRT Map: Efforts to Restrict Teaching Racism and Bias Have Multiplied Across the U.S., Chalkbeat (Feb. 1, 2022, 7:20 PM) [].  In response, the dominant counternarrative to these efforts has been that CRT is primarily taught in law schools and not in K–12 settings.  Both narratives are inaccurate.  While it is true that K–12 schools have not explicitly adopted CRT teachings, CRT has been adopted in graduate master and doctoral programs in education, the humanities, and social sciences.  See, e.g., About Us, Critical Race Studies in Educ. Ass'n, [].  At the same time, contrary to popular discourse, the majority of law schools do not teach CRT.  While law schools have not issued bans against CRT, contrary to a statement by the Association of American Law Schools, law schools have historically not made a conscious and consistent effort to cultivate CRT programs and scholars outside of a few programs in the country.  See News Release, Association of American Law Schools, Statement by AALS on Efforts to Ban the Use or Teaching of Critical Race Theory, (Aug. 3, 2021), []; see also Erwin Chemerinsky, David L. Faigman, Kevin Johnson, Jennifer Mnookin & L. Song Richardson, Joint Statement of the Deans of the University of California Law Schools about the Value of Critical Race Theory, UC Berkeley, [].  Indeed, some states are considering banning CRT from being taught in their state colleges.  Therefore, the push for CRT across all education systems remains a constant struggle largely carried by students and some scholars.

[10].      See The Organizing Committee for the First Annual Critical Race Theory Conference at HLS, First Annual HLS Critical Race Theory Conference: Reclaiming Our History of Scholar-Activism,Harv. L. Rec. (Apr. 12, 2019), [] (describing the reasons for organizing the conference and setting out a vision for the implications of the convening.).

[11].      See Gerald P. López, Training Future Lawyers to Work With the Politically and Socially Subordinated: Anti-Generic Legal Education, 91 W. Va. L. Rev. 305, 307 (1989) (critiquing legal education’s failure to properly educate attorneys to represent subordinated people through “its restricted models of teaching and learning, its disdain for lawyering and for training in all but a relatively small number of skills, its neglect of interdisciplinary theoretical ideas, its disregard of everyday life”); Chris K. Iijima, Separating Support From Betrayal: Examining the Intersections of Racialized Legal Pedagogy, Academic Support, and Subordination, 33 Ind. L. Rev. 737 (2000); Beverly I. Moran, Disappearing Act: The Lack of Values Training in Legal Education: A Case for Cultural Competency, 38 S.U. L. Rev. 1, 31 (2010) (highlighting the stark lack of diversity in the legal profession and noting that “there are few professional spaces as segregated as United States law schools”); Margalynne J. Armstrong & Stephanie M. Wildman, Teaching Race/Teaching Whiteness: Transforming Colorblindness to Color Insight, 86 N.C. L. Rev. 635, 638–39 (2008) (arguing that whiteness “often remains invisible during discussions of race,” in law schools and elsewhere, and arguing that “legal educators must develop an understanding of the role of whiteness in the construction of equality and teach future lawyers to do so as well”); see id. at 655 (“Even when professors do not mention race as part of a course, race in general and whiteness in particular are present in the law school classroom and embedded in the law that the professor teaches.  Race and the whiteness within race infuse discussions from which race is verbally absent, often resulting in alienation of students who become frustrated by the classroom silence on this important topic.  Race and whiteness affect students and faculty from all racialized groups, but they often affect students and faculty of color differently from white students and faculty.”).

[12].      Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light and Other Essays 130 (2017).

[13].      There is a group dedicated to learning and teaching what it means to practice law in a radical tradition in service of social movements with the understanding that law and lawyering were not intended to be vehicles for radical social change.  See, e.g., Plenary Program, Law for Black Lives, [].

[14].      See supra note 10; see also Laura Ansley, “The Culture Wars—They’re Back!”: Divisive Concepts, Critical Race Theory, and More in 2021,” Perspectives On History (Aug. 11, 2021), [] (describing the recent battle over CRT in K–12 education as a repetition of a centuries-long debate or conflict over whether school curricula should include narratives about the experiences of racial minorities in the United States).  See generally James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (1991) (describing the term “culture wars” as a historically rooted and ongoing conflict between conservatives, liberals, and progressives, and various religious and secular groups, over fundamental issues in the United States in areas of family, art, education, politics, and law, such as abortion, LGTBQ rights, religion in school,  which are contested heavily because of their implications on the meaning of the United States as a nation-state and its founding values).

[15].      See Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law (2019); Scott Lauria Morgensen, The Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism: Right Here, Right Now, 1 Settler Colonial Stud. 52, 54  (“[T]he biopolitics of settler colonialism will explain that the colonial era never ended because settler colonialism remains the naturalised activity projecting Western law and its exception along global scales today.”).

[16].      Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics 17-18 (E.B. Ashton trans., 1973) (challenging the modern belief that western progress has quelled suffering, reminding us that suffering is pervasive and deeply embedded in western modern structures, and arguing that the concrete reality of human suffering must be given a voice); see also Cornel West, Ware Lecture by Cornel West, at 46:04, Unitarian Universalist Ass’n General Assembly 2015 (June 27, 2015), [] (adopting Adorno’s dialectic and stating that “to be fundamentally committed to integrity makes you counter-cultural in an age of mendacity.  You have to cut so radically against the grain.  Intellectual integrity, the quest for unarmed truth, and we know the condition of truth is always to allow suffering to speak.  And if you don’t allow those who are suffering to raise their voices and play a role in the shaping of all of our destinies, you can rest be assured that mendacity is operating in a powerful manner.”).

[17].      Recognizing that the law also employs the method of storytelling in its pleadings, arguments, and judgments, Critical Race Theorists have long employed counter storytelling of those at the “bottom” as a method to arrive at truth, epistemological resistance to dominant Western epistemologies, and to uncover how structures of subordination impact the subjugated.  See, e.g., Margaret E. Montoya, Mascaras, Trenzas, y Greñas: Un/Masking the Self While Un/Braiding Latina Stories and Legal Discourse, 15 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 1, 30–31 (1994) (“[S]torytelling seeks to subvert the dominant ideology.  Stories told by those on the bottom, told from the ‘subversive-subaltern’ perspective, challenge and expose the hierarchical and patriarchal order that exists within the legal academy and pervades the larger society.”); Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism 144 (1992) (“I truly believe that analysis of legal developments through fiction, personal experience, and the stories of people on the bottom illustrates how race and racism continue to dominate our society.”); Charles R. Lawrence III, The Word and the River: Pedagogy as Scholarship as Struggle, 65 S. Cal. L. Rev. 2231, 2278–79 (1992) (delineating the differences between Western Anglo storytelling embedded in U.S. law and storytelling techniques used by African peoples as “[w]here our tradition values rich contextual detail, the law excludes large parts of the story as irrelevant . . . . we seek to convey the full range and depth of feeling, the law asks us to disregard emotions . . . . we celebrate the specific and the personal, the law tells stories about disembodied ‘reasonable men’”).

[18].      Constance Grady, How the Bew Banned Books Panic Fits Into America’s History of School Censorship, Vox (Feb. 17, 2022, 7:30 AM), (last visited Mar. 8, 2022) (comparing the history of book bans in the United States in the 1930s to the present and arguing that history repeats itself); Elizabeth A. Harris & Alexandra Alter, Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S., N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 2022), [] (describing the various books being banned and why); Richard Delgado, Precious Knowledge: State Bans on Ethnic Studies, Book Traffickers (Librotraficantes), and a New Type of Race Trial, 91 N.C. L. Rev. 1513 (2013) (arguing that the book bans, anti-ethnic studies and anti-Spanish laws in Arizona violate the First Amendment and are intended of further marginalizing minority communities); Ishena Robinson, The War on Truth: Anti-CRT Mania and Book Bans are the Latest Tactics to Halt Racial Justice, NAACP Legal Def. Fund, [] (providing an overview of the states which have banned books and CRT and arguing that they represent a direct threat to the struggle for racial justice).

[19].      See bell hooks, Understanding Patriarchy, in The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love 17, 17–18 (2004) (using “‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ to describe the interlocking political systems that are the foundation of our nation’s politics,” and noting that  “[o]f these systems the one that we all learn the most about growing up is the system of patriarchy”).

[20].      See Jodi Melamed, Proceduralism, Predisposing, Poesis: Forms of Institutionality, In the Making, 5 Lateral: J. Cultural Stud. Ass’n 1,  4 (2016) (encouraging scholars to understand neoliberalism, not as a distinct sociopolitical and economic moment, but rather as an intensification of deeply entrenched “liberal modes of institutional power” under racial capitalism; and calling for scholars to focus on the “internal and continuous” dynamics of “accumulation in political modernity” facilitated by neoliberalism as a continuation, and refinement, of racial capitalism).

[21].      Jodi Melamed, Racial Capitalism, 1 Critical Ethnic Stud. 76, 79 (2015); see also Jodi Melamed, The Spirit of Neoliberalism: From Racial Liberalism to Neoliberal Multiculturalism, 24 Soc. Text 1, 14 (2006).  Melamed also teaches us that neoliberalism has seized on multiculturalism, i.e., diversity and inclusion efforts, to “break[] with an older racism’s reliance on phenotype to innovate new ways of fixing human capacities to naturalize inequality.”  Id.  Thus,  “[t]he new racism deploys economic, ideological, cultural, and religious distinctions to produce lesser personhoods, laying these new categories of privilege and stigma across conventional racial categories, fracturing them into differential status groups.”  Id.

[22].      Bonaventura de Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide 92, 149–51 (2014) (describing epistemicide as the “murder of knowledge” resulting from European colonialization and maintained in by Western nation states).  The stark censorship of the 1619 Project by federal and state elected officials, as well as rebukes by President Trump, exemplify the power and threat that counter storytelling—narratives of racial capitalism, slavery, colonialism, and violence core to the nation’s founding and its lasting legacies—presents to the dominant white supremacist narrative.  See The 1619 Project, N.Y. Times Mag., (last visited Mar. 8, 2022); ASME Statement on Legislation Forbidding the Use of The 1619 Project in School, Am. Soc’y Mag. Eds., [] (noting that in “numerous states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi and Texas, legislators have attempted, or continue to attempt, to ban educators from assigning material from the 1619 Project to their students”).

[23].      The anti-CRT bans are a form of racial gaslighting and spectacle, a manipulation tactic that oppressors and structural abusers, have long used to avoid accountability for the structural and direct violence and harms committed against minorities by diverting the focus away from the harms themselves and, instead, on how the victim and survivor way of communicating their experiences or speaking their truth is divisive.  As a result, the oppressor manipulates the survivor into answering the  questions of whether the abuse or harm has occurred at all or whether they remembered it accurately.  See Angelique M. Davis & Rose Ernst, Racial Gaslighting, 7 Politics, Groups, and Identities 761, 763 (2019) (defining racial gaslighting as “[t]he political, social, economic and cultural process that perpetuates and normalizes a white supremacist reality through pathologizing those who resist,” and racial spectacle as “[n]arratives that obfuscate the existence of a white supremacist state power structure”); see also Sylvia Burrow, The Political Structure of Emotion: From Dismissal to Dialogue, 20 Hypatia 27, 31 (2005) (noting that emotional and physical abusers use gaslighting as a technique to “divert issues from legitimate targets by instead placing the focus on the way in which one expresses oneself”).  See generally Alison Bailey, On Gaslighting and Epistemic Injustice: Editor’s Introduction, 35 Hypatia, 667 (2020).

[24].      See Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act, S.B. 148 (Fla. 2022) (proposing a new Florida law that would prohibit K–12 schools from making students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race,” and that would provide businesses, employees, children, and families a private right of action to sue against those who are teaching CRT, The 1619 Project, or related content in the workplace, places of business, and K–12 schools).  PEN America is actively tracking the anti-CRT and anti-1619 project legislation across the country.  See Jeffrey Sachs, Scope and Speed of Educational Gag Orders Worsening Across the Country, PEN Am. (Dec. 13, 2021), [].

[25].      See Benjamin Wallace-Wells, How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory, New Yorker (June 18, 2021), [] (documenting how conversative activist Christopher Rufo intentionally researched and launched a campaign against CRT and quoting Rufo as saying that “‘Critical [R]ace [T]heory is the perfect villain,’” to further the conservative culture war).

[26].      These current challenges to censor CRT are different from the methodological critiques of CRTSee Khiara M. Bridges, Critiques of Critical Race Theory, in Critical Race Theory: A Primer 57, 57–80 (2019) (detailing critiques of CRT’s storytelling as a methodological tool to examine the law, the claim that there exists a unique “voice of color,” and CRT’s claim that merit-based achievement is racially biased); see also Natsu Taylor Saito, Tales of Color and Colonialism: Racial Realism and Settler Colonial Theory, 10 Fla. A & M U. L. Rev. 1, 23–27 (2014).

[27].      See Frank I. Michelman, Foreword: “Racialism” and Reason, 95 Mich. L. Rev. 723, 728 n.25 (1997). (“[T]he CRT premise . . . is, of course, precisely that of an institutional racism whose extent and effects far exceed the kinds of expression of it that colorblind law can remedy.”); see, e.g., Eric Foner, The Supreme Court and the History of Reconstruction—And Vice-Versa, 112 Colum. L. Rev. 1585, 1589 (2012) (arguing that the Dunning School “played a powerful and disreputable part in fastening onto the national consciousness an image of Reconstruction as a disastrous error, an era of misgovernment and corruption, the lowest point in the saga of American democracy”); Tom P. Brady, Black Monday (1955).  Judge Tom Pickens Brady served as the intellectual leader of the White Citizens Council, with the sole purpose of preserving white supremacy in legal doctrine.  After the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, Judge Brady called for every American to oppose racial integration and organized Judges and elected officials across the Country to disobey federal integration orders.  Id.  See also Charles R. Lawrence III, The ld, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317 (1987).

[28].      See generally Duncan Kennedy, Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System (2004).

[29].      By legalized injustice we mean the many ways that many in our communities regularly experience displacement, eviction, deportation, poverty, loss of life and liberty, income and wealth inequality, environmental degradation, incarceration, and state violence, which are all sanctioned by the courts and the government.  See, e.g., Judge Lisa Foster, Injustice Under Law: Perpetuating and Criminalizing Poverty Through the Courts, 33 Ga. State. U. L. Rev. 695 (2017) (discussing the structural inequalities of the bail system which disproportionately impacts racial minorities by incarcerating them for longer periods of time simply for being poor); Ian Haney-López, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race 35–55, 163–67 (10th ed. 2006) (documenting how the United States passed laws and policies around citizenships and related rights based on whiteness and non-whiteness); see also Cheryl I. Harris, Whiteness As Property , 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1707, 1744 (1993) (“Whiteness conferred on its owners aspects of citizenship that were all the more valued because they were denied to others.  Indeed, the very fact of citizenship itself was linked to white racial identity.”); Vision for Black Lives, Movement for Black Lives, [] (providing a comprehensive set of policy and legal reforms that would end structural injustice for Black people in the United States).  See generally Alexandra Natapoff, Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, (2018) (documenting the negative and pervasive impact of misdemeanors on low-income people of color).

[30].      We discuss the core curriculum because to take CRT seriously, we must understand that it is an intervention in the overall approach to legal education.  CRT should not be a sole, standalone course—though course offerings that focus specifically on CRT scholarship are important—nor should it be relegated to the elective curriculum.  Still, we recognize that CRT is essential to the non-core curriculum.  The failure of law schools to provide robust course offerings in the non-core curriculum and to hire faculty in these areas often compounds the general issues we describe with legal education.

[31].      Robert B. Stevens, Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s 51–57 (2001) (describing how Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law from 1870–85, developed the “Harvard” case method which held that law was a science and that students must read appellate decisions to discern the rationale and objective principles of law to apply in practice).

[32].      Peter Goodrich & Linda G. Mills, The Law of White Spaces: Race, Culture, and Legal Education, 51 J. Legal Educ. 15 (2001) (illustrating how the 1L curriculum and legal pedagogy erases the experiences of students of color).

[33].      Often, law school administrators work to quell student activism.  HLS is no different and has gone as far as threatening students who organize and speak in protest with suspension.  See Amanda T. Chan, How to Suppress Student Speech: The Harvard Law School Playbook, 78 Nat’l Law. Guild Rev. 53, 58–105 (documenting how the Harvard Administration uses tactics of interference, intimidation, and investigation that targets students of color to censor and suppress speech, protest, and dissent on campus).

[34].      See Delgado, supra note 6 at 1510–14 (2009) (describing the various origin stories of CRT); see also Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, The First Decade: Critical Reflections, or “A Foot in the Closing Door, 49 UCLA L. Rev. 1343 (2002); Sumi Cho & Robert Westley, Critical Race Coalitions: Key Movements That Performed the Theory, 33 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1377 (2000).

[35].      Belinda Hall is a communal lounge which was renamed by students in her honor.  See Noelle Graham & William Wright, Res-203-007: Resolution to Recognize Belinda Hall, Harv. L. Sch. Student Body Gov’t (Mar. 4, 2020).  Belinda Royall was born in 1712 in Ghana, Africa but was later “kidnapped from her home” at age twelve.  Then, Isaac Royall “bought” Belinda and she was brought to the American colonies to “serve as a slave in the Royall home Massachusetts.”  After Isaac Royall “abandoned his slaves,” Belinda at age sixty-three petitioned the “General Court (legislature) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on 1783” for “compensation for her years of service” to Isaac Royall on a theory of reparations.  See Alicia Rivera, Belinda Royall (1712-?), BlackPast (Sept. 20, 2009), []; see also Daniel R. Coquillette & Bruce A. Kimball, On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century 78-90  (2015) (describing how in 1778, after Isaac Royall, Jr.’s death, the Royall’s gifted land and money, obtained from his sugar plantations in Antigua and ownership of slaves, to the Harvard College Corporation used to create Harvard Law School and to establish Harvard’s first professorship in law, the Royall Professorship, in 1815); Arun Rath & Chiquita Paschal, History of Slavery, Future of Diversity Still at Issue at Harvard, MPR News (Mar. 6, 2016, 11:10 PM), [] (detailing the history of slavery, racism, and student activism at Harvard Law); Kiah Duggins, Belinda (Say Her Name), 36 Harv. BlackLetter L.J. 23 (2020) (a poem dedicated to the memory of Belinda Hall read during DisOrientation at Harvard Law).

[36].      Derecka Purnell & Elizabeth Hinton, Reclaiming the Power of Rebellion, Bos. Rev. (May 19, 2021), [] (discussing Hinton’s new book that counts protests as resistance and rebellion by Black people against the systemic oppression they encounter and most closely confront through the police).

[37].      See Eve Fairbanks, The Birth of Rhodes Must Fall, Guardian (Nov. 18, 2015, 1:00 AM), (last visited Mar. 9, 2022) (detailing the events leading up to the anticolonial and anti-white-supremacist movement, Rhodes Must Fall, as beginning as student protests at the University of Cape Town and growing into a national movement); see also Reclaim Harvard Law: Student Voices Reshape an Institution, Democratic Knowledge Project [] (chronicling the development of the Reclaim Movement at Harvard Law as catalyzed by a November 2015 incident where the portraits of Black law faculty were vandalized with black tape, and recognizing that Reclaim was part of a longer history of student activism at HLS).

[38].      Crenshaw, supra note 4, at 1282 (explaining the student protests and organizing efforts leading up to the Alternative Course at HLS in the Spring of 1983).

[39].      Frequently Asked Questions, Reclaim Harv. L. Sch., [] ( “Reclaim Harvard Law aims to combat our school’s systemic racism and exclusion.”); see also id. (“Since the law school refuses to provide adequate institutional support for an office of diversity and inclusion, hire critical race theorists, promote staff of color in the workplace to management positions in their due course, provide adequate contextualization in curricula, educate its professors, its staff, and its students around cultural competency, take the steps that are necessary to accord adequate and equal dignity to marginalized students and staff, Reclaim Harvard Law aims to provide that space at the law school.”).

[40].      Derecka Purnell, Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom 104–11 (2021) (describing the development of the Reclaim movement beginning in February 2016 and detailing how organizers moved to “understand radical traditions,” “initially demanded a critical race theory program,” “and decided to run [their] own critical race theory program in Belinda Hall” with CRT scholars coming to lead teach-ins).

[41].      Jordan Raymond, Op Ed, Why I’m Sleeping in Belinda Hall, Harv. Crimson (Mar. 4, 2016), [].  Organizers also fought off attempts at surveilling their movement.  See Debra Cassens Weiss, Two Hidden Recording Devices Are Discovered at Harvard Law School, ABA J. (Apr. 13, 2016, 8:03 AM), [].

[42].      Macy Salama, Students Demand Harvard Law School Remove Controversial Seal, Insight into Diversity (Mar. 9, 2016), [].

[43].      Liz Mineo, At Law School, Honor for the Enslaved, Harv. Gazette (Sept. 6, 2017),, [].

[44].      Reclaim Harvard Law Demands, Reclaim Harv. L. Sch. (Dec. 4, 2015), [].

[45].      Megan Jones, Women’s Work, Women’s Grade Gap, Harv. L. Rec. (Apr. 9, 2019) [] (highlighting the racial and gendered inequities at HLS on issues of faculty hiring and tenure, student performance, grades, and post-graduate opportunities ); Anya X. Zhang, Harvard Law School Pipeline Parity Project Celebrates Another Change to Controversial Law Firm Policies, Harv. Crimson (Dec. 10, 2018), [] (pipeline parity project); Suzanne Schlossberg & Rachel Sandalow-Ash, An Open Letter From the Coalition to Improve LIPP, Harv. L. Rec. (Mar. 26, 2018), [] (coalition to improve LIPP); Harv. Graduate Students Union, [] (Harvard Graduate Students Union); Aidan F. Ryan, Harvard Law Affinity Groups Call for Diversity Committee, Harv. Crimson (Nov. 27, 2018), [] (calling for a Diversity Committee); Jennifer Schuessler, Confronting Academia’s Ties to Slavery, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2017), [] (calling for reparations); About Us, Harv. Prison Divestment, [] (calling on Harvard to divest from prisons and police on campus); Aidan F. Ryan, Activists Urge Harvard Law School to “Better Prepare” Students to Support Incarcerated People, Harv. Crimson (Sept. 27, 2018), [] (calling for greater emphasis on criminal justice, and for divestment from prisons).

[46].      For most law students, Fall DisOrientation has traditionally been a program and space for new students to learn about these histories of student activism on campus.  Many times, these programs are met with surveillance, threats, and censorship from administration.  See Chan, supra note 34, at 55, 62, 69–81 (conducting interviews with HLS students to document and detail their experiences of receiving threats of disciplinary action from HLS Administration and surveillance via the presence of campus police present at events and its impact on student speech); see also DisOrientation, Nat’l Law. Guild, [].

[47].      A detailed description of the conference and its content was written by some of the conference organizers in a seminar paper at HLSSee Juan Espinoza, Melanie Fontes, Jack Lubin, Dave McKenna, Li Reed & Sydnee Robinson, Critical Race Theory: An Intervention in Legal Education (May 2020) (Seminar Paper submitted for The Systemic Justice Project, Harvard Law School) (on file with authors).

[48].      Rebellious Lawyering Conference 2020, Yale U., [].

[49].      Critical Race Theory Conference to Be Held March 24, Yale L. Sch. News (Feb. 26, 2018), [].

[50].      See LatCrit Biennial Conferences: List of Past Annual and Future Biennial Conferences, LatCrit, (last visited Mar. 9, 2022) [] (listing the most recent LatCrit Concert as LatCrit 2019: The Dispossessed Majority: Resisting the Second Redemption in América Posfascista (Postfascist America), hosted at Georgia State University College of Law, from October 18–19, 2019).

[51].      See UCLA Law Critical Race Studies Symposium 2017: From Colorblindness to White Nationalism?: Emerging Racial Formations in the Trump Era, UCLA Sch. L., []; UCLA Law Critical Race Studies Symposium 2019: Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights Transnational Re-Imaginings, UCLA Sch. L., [].

[52].      Some abolitionist conferences included: Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global, at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law; Fight Toxic Prisons: National Abolitionist Convening, at the University of Florida, and; Abolitionist Conference of Texas in Houston.  See  Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global, U. Tex. Austin Sch. L., []; Florida 2019, Fight Toxic Prisons, []; Abolitionist Conference of Texas: Houston, TX: Sat. May 18, 2019, Abolitionist Conf. Tex., [].

[53].      Several student groups agreed to join our application for funding to the Dean of Students (DOS) Grant Fund: the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), First Class Law Students Association, Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, Labor & Employment Action Project, Muslim Law Students Association, National Lawyers Guild, Reparatory Justice Initiative, and South Asian Law Students Association.  Several other organizations agreed to co-sponsor the conference but without signing on to the DOS Grant Fund application: Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Unbound: the Harvard Journal of the Legal Left, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Racial Justice, Criminal Justice Policy Program, La Alianza, LAMBDA, Law and Social Change Program of Study, Queer and Trans People of Color, and Students for Justice in Palestine.  Other groups and individuals later joined the team.

[54].      BLSA has a long rich and important history of student activism at Harvard.  Martin Goldman describes the historical role that BLSA played in organizing to secure the first Black tenured law professor, Derrick Bell in 1969, and continued efforts in the 1983, including a boycott of a two-hour Racial Discrimination and Civil Rights course that would be taught Julius L. Chambers, a black attorney, and Jack Greenberg, a white lawyer who directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Because this course did not meet the demand that HLS hire a tenured Black faculty member and have a substantive course on race and the law, Black law students walked out and formed the Alternative Course.  See, e.g., Martin S. Goldman, Behind the Harvard Boycott, 11 Student L. 18 (1983); Philip Lee, The Griswold 9 and Student Activism for Faculty Diversity at Harvard Law School in the Early 1990s, 27 Harv. J. Racial & Ethnic Just. 49 (2011) (describing the history of student activism and efforts by BLSA in forming the Coalition for Civil Rights, suing HLS, and organizing a sit-in to demand that HLS hire a tenured Black faculty member).

[55].      The core organizers who met weekly were Felipe Hernández (‘20), Melanie Fontes (‘20), Li Reed (‘20), Connie Cho (‘20), Rio Scharf (‘20), Danielle Simms (‘21), Mahroh Jahangiri (‘21), Dave McKenna (‘21), and Chijindu Obiofuma (Columbia Law ‘18).

[56].      Given the success of the first conference, the second-year conference had increased support from students, faculty, and administrators.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the second annual conference scheduled for April 2020 was postponed until the following academic year.  In the meantime, several members of the original organizing committee graduated, and the next group of organizers founded the “Bell Collective for Critical Race Theory” as a more formal organization.  See 2021 Conference, The Bell Collective for Critical Race Theory, [] [hereinafter Bell Collective Conference].

[57].      See Stevens, supra note 32.

[58].      See Richard Delgado & Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: Past, Present, and Future, 51 Current Legal Probs., 467, 470–80 (1998) (explaining the origin histories of CRT as a response to the failings of the civil rights movement and explaining the present and future developments of CRT born out of internal debates and conversations between scholars); see also Richard Delgado & Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction 4 (3rd ed., 2017) (“Realizing that new theories and strategies were needed to combat the subtler forms of racism that were gaining ground, early writers, such as Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Richard Delgado, put their minds to task.”).

[59].      Cedric Robinson coined the term Black Radical Tradition and defined it as “the continuing development of a collective consciousness informed by the historical struggles for liberation and motivated by the shared sense of obligation to preserve the collective being, the ontological totality.”  Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition 171 (2000).  The Black Radical Tradition developed as a critique and resistance to a “a liberal, bourgeois consciousness” that was “packed with capitalist ambitions and individualist intuitions.”  Cedric J. Robinson, Black Movements in America 96–97 (1997).  The Black Radical Tradition is born out of an ongoing, complex, and multi-faceted cultural, intellectual, social, political, and economic resistance to colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy that is intergenerational.  See Ula Y. Taylor (1999), “Read[ing] Men and Nations”: Women in the Black Radical Tradition, 1 Souls 72, (describing the role that Sojourner Truth and Charlotta Bass had on forming the Black Radical Tradition); H.L.T. Quan, Geniuses of Resistance: Feminist Consciousness and the Black Radical Tradition, 47 Race & Class 39 (2005); (critiquing Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism as a masculinist text).

[60].      See Khiara M. Bridges, The Origins of Critical Race Theory, in Critical Race Theory: A Primer 21, 21–30 (2019) (detailing the historical development of CRT in response to CLS and the civil rights struggle.); see id. at 8391, 10117 (describing the various branches of CRT, including LatCrit, APACrit, QueerCrit, TribalCrit, ClassCrit, DisCrit, and Critical Race Feminism, which emerged in response to the shortcomings of early CRT and by examining the intersection of race and other marginalized identities); see also Patrick Anderson, The Conspicuous Absence of Derrick Bell—Rethinking the CRT Debate, Part 1, Monthly Rev. Online (Sept. 10, 2021), [] (“Bell’s CRT is actually rooted in the Black Radical Tradition, with explicit roots in Black Nationalism and anticolonialism.  Bell takes his inspiration from Paul Robeson, Frantz Fanon, Robert L. Allen, and the later writings of W. E. B. Du Bois.  The tone of his writing and the strategies he offers more closely resemble Black Power than The Audacity of Hope.”).

[61].      A few weeks before the conference, about half of the core organizers participated in the Palestine Spring Break Trek which expanded our understanding of settler-colonialism occurring in Palestine and allowed us to draw multiple connections with histories of struggle against apartheid in South Africa, settler-colonialism in the United States, Latin America, and Africa, and against United States forms of racism experienced through mass incarceration, the deportation machine, and racial capitalism.  Other students on campus were organizing spaces to learn more about abolition which featured scholars and organizers.  For example, a week before the CRT conference, the Harvard Law Review hosted, for the first time in its history, a Prison Abolition Symposium that featured Essays, Articles, and panels by  Patrisse Cullors, Angel Sanchez, Dylan Rodríguez, Allegra McLeod, and Dorothy Roberts.  See Harvard Law Review Prison Abolition Symposium, Harv. L. Sch. (Apr. 11, 2019), []; see also Introduction, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1568, 1572 (2019) (“The abolitionist contributions in this edition of Developments in the Law thus stem from both a long historical tradition of radical critiques of state violence and the more recent embrace of abolitionism within certain corners of the legal academy.”).

[62].      Several abolitionist scholars have written about the historical development of an abolitionist praxis that combines theory with action, both developed in response to the present human experiences of those most marginalized by structural systems of subordination.  See, e.g., Dylan Rodríguez, Abolition As Praxis Of Human Being: A Foreword, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1575, 1576 (describing abolition praxis in the “historical present tense” that is “grounded in the Black radical genealogy of revolt and transformative insurgency against racial chattel enslavement and the transatlantic trafficking of captive Africans[, and] honor[s] and extend[s] this tradition”); see id. (describing that “[a]bolition seeks (as it performs) a radical reconfiguration of justice, subjectivity, and social formation that does not depend on the existence of either the carceral state (a statecraft that institutionalizes various forms of targeted human capture) or carceral power as such (a totality of state-sanctioned and extrastate relations of gendered racial-colonial dominance)”).

[63].      Charlene A. Carruthers, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements 10 (2018).

[64].      Dorothy E. Roberts, Foreword: Abolition Constitutionalism, 133 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 71, 76 (arguing that “[e]very advance toward black liberation since the Civil War ended has been met with formidable political and judicial backlash,” and describing how critical race theorists and abolitionists understand that the Supreme Court “has failed to account for the systemic forms of racism that persist despite the gains of the civil rights movement”).

[65].      Crenshaw, supra note 35, at 1361 (recounting how term “Critical Race Theory” was coined and describing the term as “signify[ing] the specific political and intellectual location of the project through ‘critical,’ the substantive focus through ‘race,’ and the desire to develop a coherent account of race and law through the term ‘theory’”).

[66].      See, e.g.,  Peter N. Kirstein, Steven Salaita, the Media, and the Struggle for Academic Freedom, Am. Ass’n U. Professors (Jan.–Feb. 2016), []; Jordan Vonderhaar, Dan Patrick’s Ban on Tenure Could Devastate Texas’ University System, Tex. Observer (Feb. 23, 2022, 2:14 PM), [].

[67].      See Meera E. Deo, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia (2019) (an empirical study documenting the institutional, cultural, and personal challenges women, particularly women of color, face as they become law professors and explaining why there are so few who enter and stay in legal academia); see also Richard Delgado, Minority Law Professors’ Lives: The Bell-Delgado Survey, 24 Harv. C.R.–C.L. L. Rev. 349, 350 (1989) (documenting discrimination experienced by minority faculty from the hiring process to tenure and Dereck Bell introducing the study by stating that “[f]or the fact is that the disadvantage we suffer is a more dramatic variation of the unfairness visited on many of our often more silent white colleagues.  They must learn that silent suffering does not beget reform, and that minorities who complain of unfair treatment are sounding an alarm for all”).

[68].      The Organizing Committee for the First Annual Critical Race Theory Conference at HLS, supra note 11.

[69].      Professor Charles is the Charles Ogletree, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard and he teaches and writes about election law, race and law, constitutional law, and civil procedure.  In addition to teaching a Civil Procedure and Elections course, Professor Charles is teaching a seminar titled “Critical Race Theorists and Their Critics” in Spring 2022.  See Course Catalog: Critical Race Theorists and their Critics, Harv. L. Sch., [].

[70].      Unfortunately, HLS limited our ability to conduct a conference outside the campus as school funding is meant to be used to benefit students.  This is an issue that many students face in hosting conferences intended to connect students to social movements.  During our conference organizing, we discussed and envisioned redistributing conference resources to the community as an act of reparation for the geographic displacement and gatekeeping that universities perpetuate.  Still, we recognized as students we were outsiders to the local community and that simply hosting a CRT conference at a local community center may impose an event not wanted by the community.  In the end, we realized that the best future practice should be for students to intentionally build community with local organizers and ask them how law students could further local organizing efforts.  We recognized that some student activism on campus took this approach and invited all student groups to invite as many community members as possible.  Notably, many of the conference organizers had pre-existing relationships in various forms with the local community and with organizers that we invited.

[71].      This session included Chaz Arnett (‘06) (University of Maryland), Asad Rahim (‘12) (UC Berkeley School of Law), LaToya Baldwin Clark (UCLA), Justin Hansford (Howard), Brandon Hogan (‘08) (Howard), Melvin Kelley (Northeastern), and Portia Pedro (‘09) (Boston University).

[72].      The panel included Professors Montoya (‘78) (University of New Mexico), Devon Carbado (‘94) (UCLA), Emily Houh (University of Cincinnati), and Trina Jones (Duke).

[73].      This teach-in included the following speakers: Derecka Purnell (‘17) Rena Karefa-Johnson (‘16), Simmi Kaur (‘17), Aparna S. Gokhale (‘17) and Rathna Ramamurthi (‘17).

[74].      This panel included Raheemah Abdulaleem (‘01) (KARAMAH), Kayla Reed (Action St. Louis), Professor Saleema Snow (University of the District of Columbia), and Blake Strode (‘15) (ArchCity Defenders).

[75].      This panel included Mahroh Jahangiri (‘21), Marissa Alexander (Survived and Punished), Nicole Pittman (Just Beginnings Collaborative), and Ashley Sawyer (Girls for Gender Equity).

[76].      This panel included Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Boston University), Rachel Gilmer (Dream Defenders), and Marbre Stahly-Butts (Law for Black Lives).

[77].      The workshops included “Opportunities and Challenges of Grassroots Abolitionist Campaigns,” led by Critical Resistance, “Managing Power Dynamics in Campaigns,” co-led by Thomas Harvey (Advancement Project) and Catoya Roberts (WISDOM), “An Abolitionist ‘Me Too,’” led by  Juli Kempner (Survived and Punished), Ashley Sawyer, Sejal Singh (‘20), Alyxandra Darensbourg (‘20), Connie Cho (‘20), and Mahroh Jahangiri (‘21), and “Black Queer Femme Sensual Healing” led by Reine Noire and organized by Alexis Yeboah-Kodie (‘21).

[78].      See Steven Osuna, Class Suicide: The Black Radical Tradition, Radical Scholarship, and the Neoliberal Turn, in Futures of Black Radicalism 35 (Gaye Theresa Johnson & Alex Lubin eds., 2017) (calling on academics to resist the incentives offered by the neoliberal institution that produces “scholar and scholars and intellectuals who are disconnected from larger struggles for social change, who write about oppressive conditions in the abstract, and who produce knowledge accessible only to a specific few”); see id. at 30–31 (calling on scholars to instead commit “class suicide” against the professionalization of knowledge because “[i]ntellectuals need to be rooted with the people struggling against oppression and exploitation . . . . [l]isten to the sounds, visions, and cries of the aggrieved, oppressed, and exploited who struggle every day while maintaining their dignity”).

[79].      See Bell Collective Conferences, supra note 57.

[80].      The term “Third Reconstruction” has been used widely by various scholars, organizers, politicians, and academics and generally refers to large-scale reforms that address the vestiges of white supremacy targeting minority communities, specifically African Americans, in the wake of the retrenchment from the First and Second Reconstruction eras.  See, e.g., William J. Barber II & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear (2016) (discussing the Third Reconstruction as a profound moral awakening by people forming intersectional coalitions to reclaim democracy to address systemic issues of marginalization in the United States); Wilfred Codrington III, The United States Needs a Third Reconstruction, Atlantic (July 20, 2020), [], (stating that the Third Reconstruction “must contend with the effects of the prior era’s deconstruction” to address systemic issues impacting Black communities including mass incarceration, widening wealth inequality, voter disenfranchisement, and must include “truth, reconciliation, and recompense”); Liz Theoharis, Have We Entered America’s Third Era of Reconstruction?, Nation (June 23, 2021), (last visited Mar. 10, 2022) (explaining that we may be in the early days of a Third Reconstruction as evidenced by national social movements organizing for large-scale social reforms such as the Poor People’s Campaign, and Black Lives Matter); Manisha Sinha, The Case for a Third Reconstruction, N.Y. Rev. (Feb. 3, 2021), [].

[81].      Ailsa Chang, Rachel Martin & Eric Marrapodi, Summer Of Racial Reckoning, NPR (Aug. 16, 2020, 9:00 AM), (discussing the national protests over racism in the United States in the wake of various police killings of Black people and widening structural inequality) [].

[82].      See David B. Wilkins, Bryon Fong & Ronit Dinovitzer, The Women and Men of Harvard Law School: Preliminary Results From the HLS Career Study 6, 30 (2015) (noting that while only 30 percent of newly admitted students planned to work in big law firms, over 60 percent of men and women Harvard graduates entered law firms immediately after graduation); Pete Davis, Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission 142 (2017) (examining the dismal rates of students entering public interest jobs upon graduation and highlighting the barriers including high loan amounts); Jenée Desmond-Harris, “Public Interest Drift” Revisited: Tracing the Sources of Social Change Commitment Among Black Harvard Law Students, 4 Hastings Race & Poverty L.J. 335 (2007) (describing the drift away from public interest among Black law students at HLS as a result of the particular challenges they face).  See generally Robert Granfield, Making Elite Lawyers: Visions of Law at Harvard and Beyond (1992).

[83].      The delay of the bar exam increased the costs for many test takers, and sparked a national movement to abolish the bar exam or find alternatives to licensure which do not disproportionately burden students of color, low-income students, and international students.  In 2020 and 2021, the United for Diploma Privilege national movement emerged  calling for reforms to the licensing process.  See Above the Law: Thinking Like a Lawyer, The Fight For Diploma Privilege, Legal Talk Network (July 21, 2020), [] (featuring Dr. Pilar Escontrias, Donna Saadati-Soto, Efrain Hudnell, and Emily Croucher, co-founders of United for Diploma Privilege); see also Nicci Arete, The Bar Exam’s Contribution to Systemic Inequalities in Access to Justice Around the World, 30 Wash. Int’l L.J. 324 (2021) (examining how the bar exam and United States licensing procedures, as well as similar procedures adopted globally, do not provide an empirically sound measure for competence and, rather, contributes to barriers to justice based on race, ethnicity, sex, and class); Milan Markovic, Protecting the Guild or Protecting the Public?  Bar Exams and the Diploma Privilege (Tex. A&M Univ. Sch. L., Legal Studies Research Paper No. 21-53, 2021) (arguing similarly).

[84].      Federal Judicial Center, Maintaining the Public Trust: Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks 15 (rev. 4th ed., 2019), [].

[85].      Id.

[86].      Id. at 24.

[87].      It is no secret that major law firms will pay federal and state law clerks sizable bonuses, ranging from $50,000 to $450,000 (Supreme Court Clerkship), because law firms understand the unique value and experience that clerkships can offer to the law firm.  See Kathryn Rubino, Another Biglaw Firm Steps up With Six-Figure Clerkship Bonuses, Above the L. (Dec. 15, 2021, 11:32 AM) [].  On the other hand, public interest organizations do not have the financial resources to offer such competitive bonuses.  Thus, law students exiting law school with law school debt and personal financial responsibilities are incentivized to pursue big law following their clerkships.

[88].      The race to secure clerkships for law graduates is cross-ideological.  For the past several years, law schools, the Judiciary, and the American Bar Association have expressed a commitment to increasing the number of law students from underrepresented groups who clerk by instituting a new hiring plan, cultivating mentorship programs, and encouraging Judges to participate in diversity efforts.  See, e.g., The Columbia Clerkships Diversity Initiative, Colum. L. Sch., []; Judges Focus on Diversity in Clerkship, Internship Hiring, U.S. Cts. (Apr. 29, 2021), []; J. Edward Moreno, Federal law Clerk Hiring Plan Gets 2-Year Extension, Law360 (Nov. 13, 2020, 3:16 PM), [] (explaining the new hiring plan’s purpose of increasing the diversity of law clerks and explaining why the plan has succeeded and why it will be extended).  The Federalist Society has long-recognized the importance of clerkships and spent decades maintaining a pipeline for their members.  See Amy Bach, Movin’ on Up With the Federalist Society, Nation (Sept. 13, 2001), (last visited Mar. 10, 2022) (documenting how the Federalist Society has long maintained a pipeline into federal clerkships as a pathway to influential positions in the Government and judiciary); Dylan Matthews & Byrd Pinkerton, The Incredible Influence of the Federalist Society, Explained, Vox (June 3, 2019, 9:00 AM) (last visited Mar. 10, 2022).

[89].      William H. Simon, Judicial Clerkships and Elite Professional Culture, 36 J. Legal Educ. 129, 132 (1986); see also Erik Ortiz, Clerkships Remain Largely White.  Can Law Students of Color Shake up the Status Quo?, NBC News (July 4, 2021, 1:30 AM), [] (documenting that nearly 80 percent of federal law clerks are white and commenting on the impact that a homogenous law clerk demographic has on the judiciary); Maggie Jo Buchanan, Pipelines to Power: Encouraging Professional Diversity on the Federal Appellate Bench, Ctr for Am. Progress (Aug. 13, 2020), [] (Aug. 13, 2020) (explaining the lack of diversity of the judiciary and noting that the majority of judges are white men who spent considerable time in private practice and clerked for federal judges).

[90].      Mariame Kaba, We Do This ‘Till We Free Us 4 (2021).

[91].      Paul Holdengraber, Robin Kelley on Love, Study, and Struggle, Monthly Rev. Online (Aug. 10, 2020), [] (explaining Robin Kelley’s praxis of love, study, and struggle which is learned from social movements).

About the Author

Given varying capacities and time constraints, this Essay was drafted and edited by Felipe De Jesús Hernández, Melanie Fontes, and Li Reed on behalf of organizers (with their permission) who were involved in the Harvard Law School Critical Race Theory Conferences (HLS CRT Conferences). Felipe contributed to the substantive research, writing, and editing of this Essay and Melanie and Li provided invaluable feedback and edits. This Essay builds on the writings and work done by some of the conference organizers in a seminar paper at HLS.* In spirit of the conference values and organizing principles of community, transparency, humility, decentralized & shared knowledge production, this Essay intentionally recognizes that the ideas, content, and description of events mentioned in this Essay are a composite of the intergenerational efforts of many, which include and go beyond the individual efforts of the listed authors. Though the named authors wrote this Essay, they by no means take sole ownership over the labor, time, and energy invested into organizing the 2019 and 2020–21 Conferences.

The Conferences were a collective effort. The 2018–2019 HLS Conference organizers included: Felipe Hernández (‘20), Melanie Fontes (‘20), Li Reed (‘20), Julian Nunally (‘20), Connie Cho (‘20), Rio Scharf (‘20), Majid Waheed (‘20), Danielle Simms (‘21), Mahroh Jahangiri (‘21), Dave McKenna (‘21), and Chijindu Obiofuma (Columbia Law ‘18). The 2019–2020 (postponed until Spring 2021) HLS Conference Organizers included: Felipe Hernández, Melanie Fontes, Li Reed, Connie Cho, Elizabeth Ross (‘21), Rio Scharf, Juan Espinoza Munoz (‘21), Mahroh Jahangiri, Dave McKenna, Chijindu Obiofuma, Iman Mohamed (‘21), Olivia Castor (‘22), Zoe Russell (‘22), and Mary Claire Kelly (‘21). In Spring 2020, the HLS CRT Organizers founded The Bell Collective.** We thank all the organizers of the HLS CRT Conferences who made it all possible. Our deepest thanks to the scholars, organizers, HLS student organizations and journals, lawyers, and professors who convened with us in 2019 and 2021. We greatly appreciate the invaluable mentorship we received from Professors Guy-Uriel Charles and Margaret M. Montoya on organizing the conferences and navigating our post-graduate work and lives. We also greatly appreciate the careful attention of the team of editors at the UCLA Law Review. Finally, this Essay is dedicated to the generations of past and present student activists who kept, and are keeping, the revolutionary fire of dissent, justice, truth-telling, and community alive. Errors or misunderstandings are our own.

* See Juan Espinoza, Melanie Fontes, Jack Lubin, Dave McKenna, Li Reed & Sydnee Robinson, Critical Race Theory: An Intervention in Legal Education (May 2020) (Seminar Paper submitted for The Systemic Justice Project, Harvard Law School) (on file with authors).

** See 2021 Conference, The Bell Collective for Critical Race Theory, [].