A Message from Dean Abrams
Every member of our community brings essential talents and unique perspectives that contribute to our culture and to our collective and individual experiences, and every member of our community deserves an environment where they can thrive.
Law had been taught for more than 100 years at Duke University and predecessor Trinity College before Walter T. Johnson, Jr. ’64 and David Robinson II ’64 were admitted as the Law School’s first Black students. Another decade passed before Duke Law enrolled its first Black women students, Brenda Becton ’74, Karen Bethea-Shields ’74, and Evelyn Cannon ’76. The half-century since their admission has seen our entire community — students, faculty, staff, and alumni — become more diverse along many dimensions, not just race but also ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, disability, and nationality.
Indeed, the Duke Law School of today bears little resemblance to the institution that those pathbreaking students attended. Students of color now make up about one-third of each entering JD class, and women more than half. The Law School is home to an array of affinity groups representing diverse identities, faculty and staff dedicated to providing support to them, and opportunities for alumni to offer mentorship and connection to further these students’ careers and professional development. Our students learn to fight for equality, rights, and fair processes and graduate with a commitment to service. In their scholarship, our faculty question and critique the inequalities in our legal system and propose reforms to make it fairer and more just. Our clinics and pro bono projects are the source of free, high-quality legal representation in Durham and beyond for people who could not otherwise afford it.
And yet, despite our progress, we have work to do. Many members of our community who are most at risk of discrimination in the wider world tell us that they have not had the same Duke Law experience as their peers. To be the Law School we want to be, we need to do better. We need to ensure that we are a place where members of our community can bring their whole selves to school or work, feel that their dignity and humanity are respected by all, and have confidence that their perspectives and experiences will be valued. This process will not be easy. It will require each of us to be self-reflective, open to critique, and willing to change. It is also urgent: the continued violence against marginalized members of our society demonstrates the need for change throughout our social structures, including in institutions such as Duke Law School. As we prepare the next generation of leaders for careers in a profession devoted to the pursuit of justice, we cannot ignore our obligation to pursue the same values within our own walls.
Every member of our community brings essential talents and unique perspectives that contribute to our culture and to our collective and individual experiences. Every member of our community deserves an environment where they can thrive. Whether you are a student, faculty or staff member, graduate of Duke Law School, or a prospective member of our community, I invite you all to join me in making these commitments a reality.
James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean and Professor of Law