University of Houston Law Center
Social Justice and Human Rights Initiatives
UHLC’s Social Justice and Human Rights Initiatives is a compendia of the various institutes, programs, centers, clinics and courses at the Law Center that address these issues in academic research, clinic client counseling and representation, student and faculty speakers, pedagogy, and academic support of students. These initiatives facilitate the connection with other UH-wide programs; community, local and statewide organizations; and other nationwide and international outreaches sharing a similar focus.
The UH Law Center has received the following awards recognizing the efforts in these areas. They include: areas.
- CLEO Greater Equality Award in 2018
- The ABA Alexander Award for Pipeline Excellence in 2019.
- INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine HEED Award – 2016-2022 and the only law school named a “Diversity Champion” in 2021.
- preLaw magazine badges for the “Most Diverse Law Schools” in 2023 and the “Best School for Hispanics,” and the “Best School for Asians,” in 2022
- American Immigration Lawyers Association Pro Bono Hero Award in 2015
- The Texas Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Achievement Award in 2019
- Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law (IPIL) received the inaugural 2021 Houston Intellectual Property Law Association's Excellence in Diversity Award
- Houston Business Journal Outstanding Diverse Organization in 2022 and 2023.
Over the past nine years, the Law Center student body entering credentials have increased to a record high of 160 median LSAT and median 3.7 undergraduate GPA while also being the most diverse entering class in the Law Center’s history with 57% of the entering class identifying as women, almost 14% identifying as LGBTQ+. In addition, almost 80 percent identified as first-generation law school students, and almost 20% are first generation college students. The Law Center was ranked among the top 46 law schools with the highest percentage of racial or ethnic minorities by U.S. News in December 2020 at 37.1 percent. Over the past nine years, students from underrepresented backgrounds ranged from 35-45% of the first year class.
Almost 26 percent of the tenured or tenure-track faculty are members of underrepresented backgrounds.
After Houston native George Floyd’s tragic death in Minneapolis, the University of Houston Law Center faculty and staff unanimously approved a resolution committing to fight racism and to be antiracist.
Given the Law Center’s rich mosaic of diversity,equity, and inclusion, we wanted to share all our efforts to our constituents, to further develop a comprehensive website devoted to the goal of connecting to work synergistically in furthering the goals of social justice and human rights.
UHLC centers, clinics, and programs focused on racial justice or civil rights
- Center for Children, Law & Policy focuses on youth of color in the school system, dependency, and delinquency. In all three systems, youth of color are disproportionately represented in negative actions. In schools, children of color face school discipline, suspension, and expulsion more often than their white counterparts; are more often encouraged to drop out and get a GED; and are less likely to be encouraged to go to a four-year college. Children of color disproportionately make up youth in the dependency and delinquency systems and are more likely to be detained outside their home. We focus on these matters in policy, writings, CLEs, trainings and courses.
- The Criminal Justice Institute sponsors programs that regularly focus on civil rights and racial justice in the areas such as wrongful convictions, sentencing disparities, bail reform and jail practices with respect to mentally vulnerable people.
- The Juvenile Representation and Records Sealing Clinic aims to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by which juveniles are pushed out of schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems by providing direct representation to public school students in school disciplinary proceedings.
- The Civil Justice Clinic represents low income families in areas of law such as bankruptcy, guardianships, property owner/tenant, divorce, child custody, probate/wills, and estate administration.
- The Immigration Clinic specializes in representing adult and juvenile immigrants from all parts of the world; asylum, human trafficking, SIJ/Unaccompanied Minors, victims of crime and domestic violence victims.
- The Texas Innocence Network. The Capital Division represents death-sentenced inmates in their state and federal habeas appeals. The Non-Capital Division works to exonerate inmates who did not commit the crimes for which they were wrongfully convicted. To fulfill its mission, the Non-Capital Division evaluates, investigates, and litigates claims of actual innocence.
- The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic is currently assisting the founders of the Third Ward Cooperative Community Builders. Despite a wave of gentrification that has displaced some of the historically Black neighborhood's long-time residents, many residents of the Greater Third Ward remain invested in and committed to their historic neighborhood. Through this unique worker-owned cooperative, its founders, and other members of the community hope to encourage equitable development while creating opportunities for "and directly supporting the" Third Ward's own residents so that they may own, operate and financially benefit from the redevelopment of their neighborhood.
The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic also assisted the Emancipation Economic Development Council (EEDC). Antioch Baptist Church and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church organized the Colored People's Festival and Emancipation Park Association and purchased 10 acres of land in 1872 for $1,000 to establish the Emancipation Park. This landmark was the first public park in Texas and one of the few municipal parks open to African Americans during the racial segregation era. Today, the Emancipation Economic Development Council ("EEDC") seeks to revitalize the Emancipation Park neighborhood and preserve and protect the surrounding Third Ward's 150-year-old history. Specifically, the EEDC aims to create and maintain a resilient, dynamic, and economically prosperous community and culturally rich African American neighborhood where people live, work, and thrive.
UHLC offerings that support the study of social justice
Health Law Center offers:
- The Disabilities & the Law and Genetics & the Law courses both have strong antidiscrimination/social justice elements.
- The Bioethics course has a strong justice component.
Environment, Energy and Natural Resources (EENR) Center offers:
- Environmental and social justice is taught in the Energy Law & Policy course. They look at several case studies and discuss Executive Order 12898 (February 1994), which requires federal agencies to take environmental justice into account prior to taking federal actions, such as permit approval. Environmental Justice requires, at a minimum, fair treatment, and meaningful involvement, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income. Fair treatment means that no group of people should disproportionately bear the negative environmental consequences of a project.
- International Law: Emphasis Climate Change also discusses environmental justice issues.
The EENR Center hosts multiple speakers and events discussing environmental justice. These events include:
- Judge Vanessa Gilmore spoke about her experiences as a federal judge and litigation. One of the topics was the increased vulnerability of low income and minority persons to climate change and hazardous waste impacts.
- The 3rd annual North American conference featured Elizabeth Kronk Warner, Dean, University of Utah Law School speaking on the impact of energy resource development on Native American tribes.
- Debra Baker spoke on her history as a female mixed-race attorney dealing with hazardous waste and the effects of that waste on poor and communities of color.
Center for Children, Law, and Policy
- Offers a community program, Street Law, to high school students in communities of color and through the juvenile probation department, where youth of color make up between 96 and 100% of the youth involved in the Harris County juvenile justice system.
Blakely Advocacy Institute
- Mock Trial Team competed in the Third Annual MLK National Civil Rights Mock Trial Competition. Also, with Global and Graduate Programs, the Blakley Advocacy Institute held a bilingual dispute resolution competition with two law schools located in Mexico.
Criminal Justice Institute
- The Hot Topics in Criminal Law and Procedure course covers race and criminal justice.
Pre-Law Pipeline Programs
- The UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Programs rise to the challenge of preparing the next generation of students from low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented backgrounds, preparing them to be civil rights lawyers and social justice advocates.
- The Programs’ administration has partnered with the Law School Admission Council, Access Lex, the Houston legal community, and national organizations to provide quality educational resources and programming to its scholars.
- Additionally, our pipeline programs have been recognized for excellence by the University of Houston System Board of Regents, the American Bar Association, and Insight into Diversity.
- Students who participate in the Program increase their LSAT scores on average by 11-14 points
- 132 pipeline program alums have been accepted to law school, receiving over $11.1M in scholarship awards.
- Through a variety of program offerings, we provide opportunities for our scholars to learn from, engage with, and be inspired by leading scholars and experts in these fields, in addition to the basic prelaw programming and LSAT preparation.
- In addition to legal academic core courses, pipeline program students enjoy weekly speaker series, mentoring, internship, and other personal and professional development opportunities. Through a variety of program offerings, we provide opportunities for our scholars to learn from, engage with, and be inspired by leading scholars and experts in these fields, in addition to the basic prelaw programming and LSAT and law school preparation.
- Race and civil rights-focused Classes
Pipeline Program Scholars engage in dialogue on race-related topics with our faculty through a variety of classes, designed to challenge our students to think critically about the law through various lenses. Such courses have included (with instructors listed parenthetically):
- African Americans and the Law (Eronn Putman)
- Children and the Law (Ellen Marrus)
- Constitutional Law (Ronald Turner; Emily Berman)
- Criminal Law (David Kwok)
- Criminal Practice (Judge Hill)
- Death Penalty Law – (David Dow)
- Employment Discrimination (Ronald Turner)
- Family Law (Laura Oren)
- Immigration Law (Teresa Messer, Parker Sheffy, Geoff Hoffman, Rosemary Vega, and Josephine Sorgwe)
- Juvenile Law (Ellen Marrus)
- Juvenile Capital Advocacy (Katya Dow)
- Marriage Equality and the Constitution (Laura Oren)
- Presidential Powers (Emily Berman)
- Race and the Law (Leonard M. Baynes)
- Sex Discrimination (Laura Oren)
- Trial Advocacy (Brad Wyly, Marcos Rosales, Amy Hawk, Kasi Chadwick).
- Luncheon Speaker Series
We offer a robust speaker series in which we invite experts in racial justice and civil rights to talk to our scholars about relevant racial justice or civil rights issues. During these talks, our featured speakers provide a forum to unpack these critical issues with our scholars. Speakers have included:
- Justin Hansford, Professor of Law and Director, Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights | Howard University School of Law and Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center Justin Hansford, J.D., Georgetown University. Professor Hansford, is a leading scholar and activist in the areas of critical race theory, human rights and the law and social movement.
- Aramis D. Ayala, State Attorney | Ninth Judicial Court, who spoke about Criminal Prosecution and Criminal Defense lawyering; and
- Valerie Nannery, Director of Network Advancement | American Constitution Society, who spoke on the subject of Public Policy and Government Affairs.
In an effort to continue developing interest in these areas, scholars get the opportunity to explore careers in civil rights and racial justice issues. We maintain partnerships with a wide variety of internship placements that allow our scholars to shadow attorneys in the field and learn more about this type of law.
- Our Pipeline Programs internship placements have included:
- Civil Rights Law:
- Disability Rights Texas
- Human Rights First
- Texas Civil Rights Project - Houston
- Harris County Precinct One
- 125th Civil District Court – Civil Law
- Criminal Defense and Prosecution:
- 183rd District Court – Criminal Law
- The Putman Firm
- The Law Office of Tanika J. Solomon
- The Leonard Firm
- Harris County Criminal Justice Center
- Harris County Attorney
- Law Office of Neumann-Rodriquez
- McTorry Law, PLLC
- Office of District Attorney
- Family Law:
- 387th State District Court
- Center for Children, Law & Policy and Civil Practice Clinic
- Diggs Law Firm
- Generation to Generation
- Lone Star Legal Aid
- The Law Office of Tanika J. Solomon
- Law Office of Neumann-Rodriquez
- Immigration Law:
- Catholic Charities
- Baker Ripley Neighborhood Centers Inc.
- University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic
- YMCA International Services
- Professor Renee Knake Jefferson teaches Professional Responsibility and a seminar on Gender, Law, Leadership, and Power. She covers racial justice lawyering in Professional Responsibility, focusing on a chapter from her casebook that introduces lawyering perspectives – racial justice, feminist, religious, and civics. Her Gender, Power, Law, and Leadership course (and casebook of the same name) covers systemic reforms to improve gender and racial diversity in positions of leadership and power, with an emphasis on intersectionality.
- The dean has hosted an annual Black History Month speaker for the past six years, including Harvard Law Professor Annette Gordon Reed, Georgetown Professor Paul Butler, UCLA Professor Devon Carbado and St. John’s Law Professor Cheryl Wade.