“I stand before you as a poster child for educational affirmative action programs,” said Professor Bryan K. Fair, the Spring Diversity Speaker at California Western School of Law.
In his opening remarks to a full lecture hall of students, faculty, and staff, Dean Niels B. Schaumann noted with pride that California Western’s entering class has a 40 percent diversity ratio, while the law school population overall includes 36 percent of students from diverse backgrounds.
“Few schools in the country have achieved the level of diversity you’ve achieved,” said Professor Fair, whose presentation was titled “Reflections on Brown v. Board of Education 60 Years Later.” The historic U.S. Supreme Court decision made racially segregated schools unconstitutional. Fair is a scholar of the landmark decision and the author of Notes of a Racial Caste Baby: Color Blindness and the End of Affirmative Action.
“Sixty years after Brown, one can still ask—what happened to Brown’s promise? Why has Brown failed? Why is there still so much educational inequality today?” asked Fair.
He knows from experience, having grown up attending segregated schools in Columbus, Ohio. While his experiences have shaped him, he has also shaped his own experiences, escaping the unequal schools to attend Duke University, UCLA Law School, and become a tenured professor at the University of Alabama Law School.
It was at that very university in 1963 that then-Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of the school to prevent two black students from entering. Referring to that symbolic event Fair said, “Educational disparities still stand in the school house door—Brown still has not eliminated the continuing forms of discrimination that flourish in our society today."
Fair has made the fight against discrimination his life’s work. “I am passionate about laying bare discrimination in all its forms,” he said. “I’ve dedicated my professional life to fighting discrimination and I’ve used my voice to challenge discrimination wherever I find it, whenever I see it.”
In addition to his scholarly work, Fair is heavily involved in community work, and urged the audiences to do the same. “Each of us has to decide how we’re going to be connected to our communities,” he said. “Never let anyone tell you that you cannot make a difference.”
“It was a privilege to have a scholar of Professor Fair’s standing at California Western to share his insight into the ongoing effects of the Brown v. Board of Education decision,” said Marion Cloete, California Western’s Director of Diversity Services. “He challenged us to reframe what we know about Brown and to re-imagine that decision when all these years later racial caste in public education persists.”
Different portions of Fair’s presentation struck different chords with the students in the audience.
“It was really an enlightening and affirming talk,” said 1L Sabira Abdulhameed. “One phrase that stands out is ‘remedial affirmative action.’”
“It’s nice to see a law school faculty member who really wants to emphasize not just diversity today, but the historical wrongs of the past to see how we can correct those today,” said 1L Jamal A. Kamandy.
“The work he’s doing on Brown v. Board is impressive and it’s needed, especially in the wake of the notion that we live in a post-racial society,” said 1L Arcelia Magana. “It did inspire me to look more into his work.”
“I really like that he explained diversity not just in terms of African-Americans but all the injustices that difference races have experienced,” said Samantha S. McPherson, president of the Black Law Students Association at California Western. “I found that to be very inspiring because most people don’t look at it that way.”
“As lawyers and professionals in the community, I think we should all be mindful of keeping our minds open and keeping open the lines of communication,” said 2L Komal Jain, president of the South Asian Law Students Association.
To find out more about Professor Fair and to read some of his essays, visit his webpage.