University of Houston Law Center
Diversity, Racial Justice and Human Rights Initiative
UHLC’s Diversity, Racial Justice and Human Rights Initiative is a platform encompassing the various institutes, programs, centers, clinics and courses at the Law Center that relate to race, social justice, immigration, diversity, inclusion, equality and related issues. This initiative has one goal, facilitating the connection of its affiliates 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 diversity, inclusion and equality and examples of how our faculty and staff support these areas.
Alexander Award for Pipeline Excellence
INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine HEED Award – 4 years in a row; the last two with us being the only law school in the nation earning that honor
preLaw magazine badges for the “Best School for Hispanics,” the “Best School for Asians,” and the “Best School for Diversity”
American Immigration Lawyers Association Award
Over the past six years, the Law Center student body has diversified, with 35-45 percent of students coming from diverse backgrounds, and almost 50 percent who are either a first-generation law school student, first-generation college student or first-generation American. 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. Almost 22 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 and inclusion, we wanted to share all our efforts to our constituents as we plan throughout this academic year, to further develop a comprehensive website devoted to the goal of connecting these affiliates, allowing them to work synergistically, and furthering the goals of racial 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 and Children’s Advocacy Project works to reduce juvenile crime and delinquency and improve the long-term educational success rates and life outcomes for socially and economically disadvantaged juveniles.
- The Education Rights Clinic provides the opportunity for law students to act as volunteer lawyers in the intake of clients, creation of the application and order for the request of a juvenile record sealing, and serving the appropriate agencies the client's application and order.
- 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 Practice Clinic represents low income families in areas of law such as bankruptcy, guardianships, 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. In order 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 nearly 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 racial justice
Employment Law offers:
- Employment Law Lab with the regional office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Health Law Center offers:
- The Disabilities & the Law and Genetics & the Law courses both have strong antidiscrimination/social justice elements.
- The Bioethics courses have 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 will compete in the Third Annual MLK National Civil Rights Mock Trial Competition.
Criminal Justice Institute
- The Hot Topics in Criminal Law and Procedure course covers race and criminal justice.
Pre-Law Pipeline Program
- The UHLC Pre-Law Pipeline Program rises to the challenge of preparing the next generation of social justice warriors. 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.
- Race and civil rights-focused courses
Scholars engage in dialogue on race-related topics with our faculty through a variety of classes. Some of these classes include Constitutional Law (with a focus on racial justice and civil rights), “Race and The Law,” and “African Americans and The Law” through which students are challenged to think critically about the law through these lenses.
- Luncheon Speaker Series
We offer a robust speaker series in which we invite experts in racial justice/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. One such speaker from this summer’s lineup, Professor of Law, Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center Justin Hansford, J.D., Georgetown University Justin Hansford, is a leading scholar and activist in the areas of critical race theory, human rights and law and social movement.
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 internship placements (like the Texas Civil Rights Project and Lone Star Legal Aid) who allow our scholars to shadow attorneys in the field and learn more about this type of law.
- Professor Renee Knake Jefferson teaches Constitutional Law, 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, civics, etc. 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.