I hope that this message finds you in good health and at relative peace during what has been perhaps the most tumultuous and upsetting time of our lives. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased – and overdue – focus on both systemic racism and police brutality, the wildfires that have charred California and darkened our skies, and the persistent attacks on our legal and academic institutions by people at the highest reaches of power, this has been a supremely intense period of unprecedented social, economic, environmental and political challenge.
From my view at UCLA School of Law – or, to be more specific, from the home office where I have been doing my daily duties as dean since we all shifted to working remotely in March – this moment highlights a fundamental fact of what it means to be a part of UCLA Law’s incredible group of family and friends: Nothing could be more important to the continued success of our law school than the health, security, safety, opportunity and equality of each and every one of us who learns, works and thrives here. The powerful stories of perseverance, service, adaptability, scholarship and advocacy that you will find in this magazine bear out that truth, repeatedly and in stark relief.
As you can see, this year we opted to shift our annual magazine to a publication that’s entirely online, a move that mirrors the many aspects of our daily existence that have gone digital in this age of physical distancing, economic belt-tightening and online commerce and communication. While this delivery method may be an apt adaptation in these extraordinary times, I hope you’ll take the time to peruse the contents just as you would with our physical magazine, and that you may find some inspiration in the activities and accomplishments of our students, faculty and alumni during a remarkably challenging year. Yes, it’s been a difficult year in many ways, but I have never been so proud of UCLA Law and our community as I am now.
That’s why this magazine is headlined “Meeting the Moment.” In so many ways, large and small, our students, faculty and staff responded to the pandemic from the moment it bore down in the late winter and continued to offer profound insight and leadership when protests arose following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others.
Along with the massive effort to flexibly shift to remote learning – including our all-virtual 2020 Commencement ceremony featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder – classmates banded together to create a mutual support network, and faculty and friends founded an emergency fund that helped students in acute need due to the impact of the coronavirus. Our Prison Law and Policy Program created the COVID-19 Behind Bars Project, which gained national attention for its tracking of the pandemic’s impact in American prisons. Our Criminal Defense Clinic helped secure the release of an immigrant detainee from a San Bernardino facility where he was at high risk of contracting the virus. And our community spent the summer preparing for an efficient and productive return to nearly all-online classes when school resumed in August.
In the meantime, the police killings and subsequent international protests against racism impacted our community in profound ways, and we Bruins responded with characteristic deliberation and direction. Twenty years ago, our Critical Race Studies program was founded as the first such center of scholarship at any law school in the nation, and its faculty members remain the most influential and sought-after scholars and trendsetters in this immensely pertinent area of law and society. In this 20th anniversary year, amid widespread protests and unprovoked attacks on Critical Race Theory from the president and others in the government, we are proud to showcase this magazine’s main feature story, where seven of our leading CRS faculty members discuss the impact of the moment on their areas of expertise – from education to police accountability to immigration. I think you will find their perspectives to be as provocative as they are inspiring.
This atmosphere of racial concern also caused us at UCLA Law to look inward and examine how our institution sometimes unintentionally perpetuates the insidious legacy of systemic racism. We are having ongoing conversations about how to better embrace the principles of anti-racism and promote greater equity, diversity and inclusion at our law school. I welcome your suggestions for how we can do still better – and I also thank the numerous alumni who have made recent gifts to the Black Law Students Association scholarship at UCLA Law, which, alongside our existing Achievement Fellows Program, Law Fellows Program and other initiatives, is primed to open more doors through which underrepresented people can achieve excellence in the legal profession.
UCLA Law made tremendous strides in many other areas during the past year. A visionary contribution of $15 million from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria – the second-largest gift in the history of the law school – will support scholarships through our Native Nations Law and Policy Program, and remarkable donations also launched our Center for Immigration Law and Policy and Institute for Technology Law and Policy. These programs will yield major successes in scholarship and policy in the years to come, and their launches join a long list of accomplishments that this year also included the awarding of several additional prestigious Skadden Fellowships in public interest law, an area where UCLA Law is a perennial leader, to three more of our graduates, and even a trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where student members of our Documentary Film Legal Clinic got to meet with potential clients and be feted at the red-carpet premiere of a movie on which they provided legal assistance.
Meeting the moment. Embracing opportunity. Rising to the challenge. That’s what we have always done at UCLA Law, and in this unexpected year of confusion, fear, unrest and economic difficulty, that’s what we will – of course – continue to do.
In this period, I have been so impressed, not only by the accomplishments of our faculty, students and alumni but also by their kindness and continued engagement in our community. It is easy, amid uncertainty and the structural isolation of this pandemic, to see the glass as half empty and to critique rather than connect. Instead, I have seen colleagues reach out to invest still more deeply in their teaching. I have seen students invest in helping each other and the broader community in tremendous ways. I have seen our alumni work to stay connected to us and to make a difference in the world.
Thank you for caring and for holding on to your Bruin optimism even amid these troubling times. May you and your loved ones please continue to stay healthy and safe.
Jennifer L. Mnookin
Dean and Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law