Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Race Relations Act @50-Dean Blake Morant

This blog was inspired by my attendance at a recent conference held at The British Academy on the 09-10 July 2015. The conference was titled ‘The Race Relations Act @ 50’.

On Thursday morning, the conference was opened by a powerfully intense speech by Professor Charles Lawrence. After Professor Lawrence's speech, we heard from the distinguished Dean Blake Morant. Blake Morant is the Dean of Montana Law School. He is also the President of the Association of American Law Schools.

Morant described the three key areas to focus on in order to increase change and development as:
 1)Education (particularly within Law Schools)
2) Business 
3) Legal/political change

Morant explained the strong ethos of diversity behind the Association of American Law Schools. He highlighted the importance of diversity throughout the American legal system to mirror society.  He moved on to discuss his career journey from a poor background where his mother was the first of her family to attend college. His motivation to be successful was influenced by his mother who taught him to "be academic or to be dead". His parents were strong believers in the importance of education in social and racial developmental change.

Morant stated that you can legislate rules and formalities but it is the context in which they are applied! This made me recognise the fact that it does not matter how many laws are implemented or how much effort goes into developing change if we do not also change the attitudes of society. This led to me assessing the importance of changing the attitudes and perceptions of both the wider public and members of the legal sector. Without positive and universal shifts in the attitudes of both judges and jurors, they can continue to enforce inequality based on their attitudes and interpretation of the law when delivering verdicts, judgements and sentences. Therefore more balance and diversity are needed across the American legal system, particularly the judiciary so that it represents the diverse population across America, subsequently encouraging change.

Morant also spoke about the ways his law schools teach students the importance of getting involved, in order to create social and legal change. He discussed the importance of teaching law students diversity in professionalism. He emphasised the point that without diversity and acceptance of people's differences you restrict yourself within the current legal climate. It was disappointing to hear some of his stories about white American law students intolerance of fellow students from other backgrounds. 

The Deans stories have made me analyse cultural and racial acceptance at UK law schools. I have not observed any direct racism towards specific students during my time at bar school. However, students who's first language is English have expressed intolerance of some students who speak English as a supplementary language. Some of these students concerns may be justified due to the level of accurate use of language expected of law students when studying at both undergraduate and professional training levels. Nevertheless, comments such as foreign students should attend separate classes are still subconsciously racist even if the legitimate reason for the suggestion is to divide people based on their ability to engage and exceed on the courses. If this was a legitimate reason to segregate students based on their nationality, students from private schools could argue that students from state schools hold up their development too. To separate students for either reasons would be like going back 50 years to a divided society where we do not use the same facilities as each other. Therefore instead of undermining international students abilities to engage in courses due to their level of oral English, perhaps we should be respecting their bilingual intelligence and appreciate the diversity that they bring to the course. It is clear that both American and UK law school students still need educating on equality.

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