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Twelve Black Alumni Share Stories of Pain, Hope, and the Way Forward for Pepperdine Caruso Law

On July 15, 2020, Pepperdine Caruso Law presented "A Conversation on Race," featuring 12 Black alumni members of the School of Law who currently serve on the Board of Advisors and Dean's Council. The online event was intended for Pepperdine students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. A similar event with the same panelists was held specifically for students on July 13. The alumni members who serve on the Board of Advisors and Dean's Council are committed to increasing the diversity of the School of Law and the legal profession. Each invited speaker was a distinguished professional in the judiciary, private practice, public service, or non-profit organization.

The speakers included:

  • The Honorable Andre Birotte (JD '91), United States District Court Judge for the Central District of California
  • Nazareth Haysbert (JD '12), Partner Haysbert & Moultrie
  • Zna Portlock Houston ('84, JD'87), Attorney & Entrepreneur, Adjunct Professor Pepperdine Caruso Law
  • The Honorable Dwayne K. Moring ('84, JD '91), Superior Court Judge, San Diego Superior Court
  • Deanna Newton (JD '17), International Tax Associate, KPMG - Los Angeles
  • Angela Powell ('93, JD '97), Partner, Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP
  • Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper (JD '89), Partner, Arent Fox
  • Carmen Cole (JD '01), Partner, Squire Patton Boggs LLP
  • Cicely Simpson (JD '01), Founder/CEO, Summit Public Affairs
  • Jack White (JD '03), Partner, Fluet, Huber & Hoang PLLC
  • Raymond Williams (JD '92), Partner, DLA Piper
  • Jerren Wright (JD '09, MBA '11), Business Affairs Executive, Amazon Studios

Dean Paul Caron shared in his opening remarks:

When I became Dean three years ago, I inherited an advisory board of alumni leaders that consisted of 2% Black members and 12% persons of color. I immediately began working with my then associate dean, now President, Jim Gash to increase the diversity of the board. In 2018, we disbanded what was then called our Board of Visitors and created a new board, the Board of Advisors. Our new Board of Advisors has 18% Black members and 22% persons of color. At the first meeting of the new board in October 2018, we spent much of our time discussing how to increase diversity and inclusion at our law school. The #1 recommendation of the board was to create an assistant dean of diversity at the law school, which we did in November 2019 when Chalak Richards agreed to serve in this new role.

In March 2019, we created a second board of our younger alumni leaders that we call our Dean's Council. The Dean's Council has 8% Black members and 22% persons of color. We are proud of the progress we have made in increasing the diversity on our boards, but we have much more work to do.

Frankly, it is not a secret that the legal profession as a whole, and Pepperdine as a school, have been predominantly white. Many of the alumni you will hear from today came to Pepperdine at a very different time than we live in today. They are going to share their experiences at Pepperdine and in the legal profession so we can better understand where we have been as a law school and profession and, more importantly, where we need to go.

Pepperdine is committed to increasing the diversity of our law school and thus helping to increase the diversity of the legal profession by recruiting and retaining more students of color. We are thrilled that Rick Caruso shares this goal -- the largest component of his $50 million naming gift last October is to expand scholarship funding for students from underrepresented groups to attend our law school.

Our alumni of color are vital partners in helping to increase diversity at Pepperdine Caruso Law. As one of many examples, Judge Dwayne Moring (who you will hear from today) was instrumental in bringing both the California LAW's Pathways to Law Program and the "For People of Color" Program to Pepperdine. If you want to hear more about these and other diversity efforts, please connect with Dean Richards at chalak.richards@pepperdine.edu.

Over 175 attendees participated in the conversation in which each law school alumnus shared his or her experience as a Black law student and a Black lawyer. Many in the audience were brought to tears as they listened to stories of pain mixed with stories of hope. Several alumni talked about the "gut punch" they felt when they were treated differently because of their race even after working hard to become a successful, seasoned attorney. Many Black alumni members mentioned that they are the "first" in their professional positions. They offered words of encouragement to Black law students and all people of color to continue to break barriers, find ways to make social change, and to stand for integrity and justice, even when the truth is hard. Several members shared that the most important action allies can do for Black members of the legal community is to be kind to those who are different from you and stand up for injustice when you see it.

One alumnus shared a poignant story about Professor Jim McGoldrick coming to his aid when two public safety officers stopped to question him without cause in the early 1990s on campus. He shared that Professor McGoldrick used strong words to defend him and told the public safety officers that he was a law student and had done nothing wrong. This was the true definition of an "ally" and something all of us in the Pepperdine Caruso Law community can do to serve Black members of the legal profession. Several alumni discussed assisting with recruiting efforts to bring more students of color to Pepperdine Caruso Law because "we all have a duty to recruit." Many alumni members expressed that they are grateful to Pepperdine Caruso Law for strengthening its commitment to racial justice.

A full recording of both events will be available on the school's diversity website in the future here. Please visit the website if you missed this important event. Thank you to our Black alumni leaders for your vulnerability and truth.