Month: February 2015

Naomi Murakawa on Racial Profile Guidelines

At today’s Black Lives Matter Conference events at Harvard Law School, Naomi Murakawa gave an amazing keynote based on her new book, ‘”The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America,” which, based on her lecture, we highly recommend.

In an interview with Sharmini Peries from The Real News, Dr. Murakawa, discusses whether the new federal racial profiling guidelines are likely to have a salubrious impact on the problem in local police departments.

Here’s that interview.  (Note: the third video the interview playlist is about the thesis of her book.)

Black Lives Matter Conference – Tomorrow

BLSA 2015 Conference Logo

Saturday’s Agenda:

Location: Wasserstein Hall, Harvard Law School
  • 9am-9:45am Continental Breakfast
  • 10am-5pm Panel Discussions
    • 10am-11:15am Black Health Matters
    • 11:15am-11:30am Snacks
    • 11:30am-12:45pm Black Activism Matters
    • 1pm-2pm Lunch
      • Keynote Speaker: Dr. Naomi Murakawa, Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and Author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America
    • 2:15pm-3:30pm My Sister’s Keeper/My Brother’s Keeper (separate panels)
    • 3:45pm-5:00pm Black Media Matters
  • 6:30pm-8:00pm Dinner at the Sheraton Commander Hotel
    • Keynote Speaker: Opal Tometi, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter and Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration

More details here.  Conference program (pdf): 2015-HBLSA-Spring-Conference-Program1.

Police Advertising

These are not my finest two photos (I blame the moving train), but I saw this on the T today and couldn’t help wondering what kind of people we are trying to attract into the police force, and what kind of message we are sending about what policing looks like.

20150222_120454 20150222_120440

Surely something closer to this, the first image that comes up when you google “community policing”, would be a better option?


See here for a review by Hillary Haley and Jim Sidanius of some of the social psychology literature on how hierarchy-attenuating organizations like police forces reproduce themselves:

Specifically, recent research has shown that hierarchy-enhancing (HE) organizations (e.g. police forces) tend to be occupied by those with anti-egalitarian beliefs, while hierarchy-attenuating (HA) organizations (e.g. civil liberties organizations) tend to be occupied by those with relatively democratic beliefs. This research has also provided evidence for five (non-mutually exclusive) processes underlying this institutional assortment: self-selection, institutional selection, institutional socialization, differential reward, and differential attrition.

Obesity: A matter of personal choice?


Two articles that reflect very different conceptions of what causes obesity, and therefore how to address it.

First, in the LA Times, a report that diet and exercise alone are no cure for obesity:

For most of the nation’s 79 million adults and 13 million kids who are obese, the “eat less, move more” treatment, as currently practiced, is a prescription for failure, these experts say.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Conservative government has proposed withholding benefits payments for those who could, as the Guardian puts it, “do more to help themselves…lose weight”:

People who cannot work because they are overweight or suffering addiction problems could be threatened with losing their sickness benefits if they do not accept treatment under plans due to be outlined by David Cameron on Saturday.

Under proposals that are likely to be met with resistance from charities and some medics, the Conservatives will consider whether to reduce payments worth about £100 a week for those they consider could do more to help themselves by going on medical programmes designed to make them to lose weight, stop taking drugs or give up alcohol.

The issue really comes down to whether obesity is a matter of personal choice. Prime Minister David Cameron believes it is:

[P]eople have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.

While Christopher Ochner in the LA times suggests the opposite:

“What really bothers me working around and with clinicians, is that some of them–a disturbing percentage–still believe it’s all about personal choice: that if the patient just tries hard enough, and if we can just figure out how to get them a little more motivated, then we’d be successful. And that’s just not right.”

The disconnect makes you wonder who benefits from the myth that diet and exercise are a cure for obesity. The documentary “Fed Up” suggests that the food industry, and particularly the sugar industry, had a lot to gain by pretending that Americans were gaining because of calories and exercise, and not because of the increasing quantities of sugar in the food that is all around us.

Captured Climate Science

Wei Hock Soon

From New York Times:

For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

Read article here.

Related posts on The Situationist Blog:

Divest Harvard Sit-in (and some historical context)


Divest Harvard is currently staging a sit-in in Harvard’s Administration building in Mass Hall. Here is the Boston Globe coverage and here is the statement from Divest Harvard. There are extremely strong resonances with the event that just happened, announced in the previous blog post, in which Kimberle Crenshaw, Philip Lee, Daniel Coquillette and Victoria White-Mason discussed the history of race and social movements at Harvard Law School, including previous sit-ins like the Griswold 9 and the 1991 lawsuit against the Law School for discrimination in its hiring practices. We’ll post the video of that event when we have it.

For further information, here is Divest Harvard’s full statement:

Today, over 35 Harvard students are sitting in at Massachusetts Hall, outside President Drew Faust’s office, to demand full divestment from the fossil fuel industry. We sit in because Harvard has a responsibility to do everything in its power to address the climate crisis.

The scientific debate about climate change is over. Global warming threatens livelihoods and cultures in communities around the world with natural disasters, drought, floods, disease, and conflict. Yet Harvard willingly profits from the fossil fuel companies that exacerbate this crisis, even as the true costs of oil, coal, and gas use are borne by our communities. Overwhelmingly, these costs are borne by already marginalized communities, making this not only a climate issue, but a justice issue more broadly.

As we sit in, we call on Harvard to answer these questions. Will Harvard continue to profit from corporations whose extraction methods exacerbate inequality in already marginalized communities? Will this university disregard the effect of exploitative business practices and choose to prioritize corporate profit over communities on the frontlines of climate disasters whose lives and cultures are under siege? Will it choose to ignore commitments to current and future generations, including Harvard’s own students, who are currently being robbed of a livable future?

Divest Harvard calls for divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies as the first step. Harvard’s divestment would align its financial choices with its purported values. It would also send a powerful message that our society can no longer tolerate the business model and political power of the fossil fuel industry. Harvard is already a global leader in research and education. Alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. And the university has taken steps to address its own carbon impact through admirable sustainability initiatives. Yet Harvard’s wealth and influence means it has a special responsibility to act in every capacity possible in the face of a crisis this immense. Despite a compelling historical precedent of divestment from tobacco and South African apartheid, Harvard has ignored the facts of the current crisis. Refusing to divest now is an irresponsible and unsustainable abrogation of Harvard’s power.

Divest Harvard began on this campus close to three years ago. In an Undergraduate Council referendum in 2012, 72 percent of participating Harvard College students supported divestment from fossil fuels. Since then, in addition to growing student support, over 200 faculty members, almost 1,100 alumni, and around 65,000 community members signed onto our campaign. Backed by this powerful  movement, as well as a movement across the country, we asked the university to meet with us to discuss the possibility of divestment. The university ignored our requests and even arrested a student in the spring of last year who was protesting the lack of transparent dialogue.

Now, Divest Harvard will accept nothing short of full divestment. After three years of conversations that led nowhere, merely requesting further discussion is both insufficient and disrespectful to the communities who bear the direct consequences of the fossil fuel industry’s actions. Harvard’s actions must reflect the urgency of the global need for action.

Today we are sitting in the office of Harvard’s president, to call on her and her fellow decision-makers in the Harvard Corporation to make the ethical, sensible, and necessary decision to divest from fossil fuels. This movement is here to stay. Divest Harvard therefore commits to continue mobilizing, and to come back in the spring – more powerfully and with higher numbers than ever before.

All eyes are on Harvard, and the choice it makes in this moment will be reflected in its legacy for years to come.

And here is the Globe reporting of Harvard’s statement:

But Harvard officials reiterated that the university does not plan to divest and condemned the students’ demonstration, calling it “disrespectful.”

“We fully respect their opposing point of view and their opportunity to express it openly and vigorously,” university spokesman Jeff Neal said in a statement. “But we are deeply disappointed that divestment advocates have chosen to resort to a highly disruptive building occupation as a means to advance their view.”

He said in the statement that Harvard President Drew G. Faust would meet with the protesters if they agreed to exit Massachusetts Hall, which houses the offices of top administrators, including Faust.

Kimberlé Crenshaw at Harvard Law

Professor Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw will lead a symposium about race, legal education and justice in the wake of the events in Ferguson.  The even is sponsored and organized by Harvard Students for Inclusion and co-sponsored by La Alianza, APALSA, BLSA, MLSA, NLG, Lambda, and ACS.

Thursday, February 12th from 12:00 – 1:30pm in WCC 2004RACE AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AT HLS: A RETROSPECTIVE

Join law professor and legal historian Daniel Coquillette for a look back on HLS’ history of race, racism and student activism followed by panel discussion with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Philip Lee, Ronald Sullivan and Victoria White-Mason
*lunch provided by Milbank Tweed*

Thursday, February 12th from 5:15 – 7:15pm in Langdell South (272 Kirkland):  CONTEXTUALIZATION IN LEGAL EDUCATION: A TEACH-IN

1L cases like you’ve never seen them before. Join Kimberlé Crenshaw, Duncan Kennedy, Jon Hanson, Aziza Ahmed and Gary Peller for a demonstration and discussion of the importance of contextualized learning in case method teaching.


Kimberlé Crenshaw and Gary Peller will deliver keynote remarks on the relevance of legal education to the current conversations about racial injustice in the law. How do the “broken” aspects of the law track back to what and how we learn in law school? What responsibility do legal educators have to teach and create curriculum that combats, or at least addresses, systemic injustices? Duncan Kennedy will moderate the post-keynote panel with Dean Martha Minow, Philip Lee, and Jon Hanson.

Facebook event here.

Read full bios of each of the speakers here:

Systemic Justice Project in The Globe

Jon Hanson Jacob Lipton Systemic Justice Project

Below are excerpts from Courtney Humphries’s superb Boston Globe article about the Systemic Justice Project at Harvard Law School (cartoon by Sam Washburn and photo by Justin Saglio, both for the Globe):

From the first day, it’s clear that law professor Jon Hanson’s new Systemic Justice class at Harvard Law School is going to be different from most classes at the school. Hanson, lanky, bespectacled, and affable, cracks jokes as he paces the room. He refers to the class of 50-odd students as a community; he even asks students to brainstorm a name for the group. But behind the informality is a serious purpose: Hanson is out to change the way law is taught.

“None of us really knows what ‘systemic justice’ is—yet you’re all here,” he points out. The new elective class, which is being taught for the first time in this spring term, will ask students to examine common causes of injustice in history and ways to use law and activism to even the field.

Traditionally, students come to law school to master existing laws and how to apply them. But surveys given to the students in this class beforehand show that most are worried about big unsolved social problems—income inequality, climate change, racial bias in policing—and believe that law is part of the problem. The goal of Hanson’s class is to introduce a new approach.

The class is part of a new Systemic Justice Project at Harvard, led by Hanson and recent law school graduate Jacob Lipton. They’re also leading a course called the Justice Lab, a kind of think tank that will ask students to analyze systemic problems in society and propose legal solutions. Both classes go beyond legal doctrine to show how history, psychology, and economics explain the causes of injustice. A conference in April will bring students and experts together to discuss their findings.

Harvard’s project is an unusual one, but it arises out of a growing recognition that law students need to be trained to be problem-solvers and policy makers. As Hanson tells his students that first day, “If you’re thinking about systemic justice, you need to be thinking about legal education.” He believes that this education should be less about learning the status quo and more about how the next generation of lawyers can change it.

There’s widespread acknowledgment that justice is often meted out unfairly; decades of scholarship have shown how social biases based on race, gender, corporate interests, or ideology find their way into written laws. Nevertheless, Hanson says, law school classes don’t always give students the tools to counteract injustices. “My students have expressed increasing amounts of frustration with the fact that many of our biggest problems are not being addressed by the legal system,” he says. Lipton was one of those students. After graduating in 2014, he turned down a fellowship in Washington, D.C., to stay at Harvard and help Hanson see the new project through.

One of their targets is the case method of legal education, which has been the dominant form of teaching law in America since it was introduced at Harvard Law School by Christopher Columbus Langdell after he became its dean in 1870. Rather than lecturing his students, Langdell asked them to examine judicial cases of the past. Then, through a process of Socratic questioning, he would challenge students to explain their knowledge and interpretation of a case, allowing them to glean the deeper principles of the law, much like a scientist would examine evidence.

Though the case method has evolved since the 19th century, the primary text of most classes is still the casebook—a set of legal decisions chosen for their ability to illustrate legal principles. Professors who embrace it say this approach forces students—particularly first-year students with little legal training—to think like lawyers. “Within a few weeks, I have reprogrammed their brains,” says Bruce Mann, a law professor at Harvard who’s known for his rapid-fire questions in class. “That doesn’t mean that it is backward-looking. I’m really teaching them how to think.” Mann, like many professors these days, tries to put cases in a larger historical and social context.

Jon Hanson Jacob Lipton

But Hanson and Lipton believe that the case method, while helpful in the hands of skilled teachers, puts too much emphasis on what the law already is, rather than what it should be. It tends to assume that decisions of the past are fair and appropriate. Instead, says Lipton, “we think that legal education should start with what the problems are in the world.”

They also take issue with the way that law gets divided into categories—tax law, criminal law, property law, torts, contracts—each with different professors and different casebooks. Douglas Kysar, a law professor at Yale Law School and former student of Hanson’s who has embraced his interdisciplinary approach to the law, says that these divisions can hinder tackling issues that existing laws don’t address, and permits problems that run across disciplines to go unaddressed. “In each one of those fields, we often try to present the cases and materials as if they’re an efficient and fair whole,” he says. When something arises to challenge that picture, professors can pass the buck. For instance, in environmental law, one of Kysar’s specialties, it’s not always clear where the responsibility to fix a problem like pollution lies. “Everyone’s pointing their fingers at other systems that are supposed to address a harm,” he says. “There’s no place where you’re looking at the systems in a cross section.”

Hanson and Lipton also argue that the law focuses too much on the actions and disputes of individuals—and not even on an accurate vision of how individuals behave. “In many cases, the focus on the individual obscures what the actual problem is or what the solutions are,” Lipton says. Hanson, meanwhile, has long argued that the vision of the individual that exists in law isn’t well backed up by research. He directs the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard, which brings findings from social psychology and social cognition to bear on the law. The law generally treats people as rational actors making decisions based on their own knowledge and beliefs. In fact, Hanson says, research has shown that people are easily swayed by their circumstances. Through their academic writing and on a blog called The Situationist, Hanson and a growing group of like-minded scholars have argued that solving systemic problems means focusing more on forces that act on us, rather than assigning blame and punishment to individual actors.

A systemic approach to racial bias in policing, for instance, might look at psychological research on unconscious racial bias, police training techniques, and law enforcement policies in order to create a more just system, rather than on the actions of a specific officer. For the problem of rising student debt, another complex issue that students in the Justice Lab think tank are likely to tackle, it might look at federal loan systems that allow for-profit colleges to put students in debt without providing enough value in return. Another example is obesity and the food system; a systemic approach would look at ways that advertising, agricultural subsidies, supermarket zoning, and food service practices create an unhealthy system for consumers. “We want to examine the role that large commercial interests play in shaping laws,” Hanson says. Solutions might involve class actions, new regulations, or institutional changes.

. . . .Hanson thinks that the idea of systemic justice resonates now in a way that it hasn’t always in the past. “I think that is a reflection of the change in the mood in the country and in this generation of law students,” he says.

* * *

The Systemic Justice Project, though unique in some ways, is part of a larger effort introduce a policy focus into law school—Stanford Law School, for instance, recently launched a Law and Policy Lab that asks students to find policy solutions to real-world problems. “Traditionally, law school education has been doctrinal,” says Sergio Campos, a law professor at the University of Miami and visiting professor at Harvard. “You teach students what the law is and how to apply it.” . . . . “When you get to a position where you can change the law, you don’t have a background on policy and what it should be,” Campos says.

* * *

. . . Harvard law professor David Rosenberg . . . . believes law schools often leave students unprepared to think broadly. “Over and over again in my many decades at Harvard, students have told me that my advice contradicts their instruction in other courses that making social policy arguments is a confession of weakness in your legal position, and should be done, if ever, only as a last resort,” he says. “We’re de-training them.”

Rena Karefa-Johnson, a second-year student who’s signed up for both the Systemic Justice class and the Justice Lab, admits that some students simply want to learn existing law and don’t appreciate Hanson’s approach. But it’s been popular with students like her who are already active in fighting for social causes. “The law is inherently political,” she says. “He does not allow his students to learn the law outside of its context.”

Read entire article here.