With the conversation around racial justice at the forefront, three members of Albany Law School’s faculty are responding using the best tools at their disposal: research, knowledge, and education.
Professors Ciji Dodds, Anthony Paul Farley, and Christian Sundquist formed the independent Institute for Racial Justice Research and Advocacy in June 2020, in the days following a campus-community town hall on racial justice. That conversation was held in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and the demonstrations across the United States in response to mistreatment of and violence against Black and brown men and women.
“We felt the responsibility to ourselves, to our BLSA and allied students, and to the broader community as a whole to act,” Sundquist said.
They moved quickly to launch the institute. Within a week, it was recognized as part of a national network of centers for race studies, which opened the door for “projects of national importance,” Sundquist said. In July, the institute collaborated with NYU School of Law’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law and others to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Vannoy. The institute also launched a repository of essential readings and scholarship on its website (raceandlaw.org).
“This is actually a part of a bigger movement that is occurring in law schools,” said Dodds, noting that future law students are beginning to expect racial justice classes as part of the curriculum. “Now that we have a greater number of law students of color, of marginalized students, of LGBTQ students, we’re taking stock of, what does it mean to be a law student in America? And how can a law
student or a law professor effect change in America?” Though the institute is currently independent of Albany Law School, it has brought on nine students as research assistants to work on “people’s manuals” examining racial disparities in education, health, and criminal justice. Several other research-based projects are also in the works.
“The idea behind [the NAACP magazine The Crisis] is the idea behind our institute: that those of us who are in a position to be able to study the crisis should share that knowledge with the people who are trying to do some- thing to resolve it,” said Farley. “That knowledge shouldn’t be hidden under a bushel—it should be spread.”
And that knowledge itself is a form of advocacy, the founders said. In fact, research and advocacy are inexorably linked. Case in point: Brown v. Board of Education.
“A big part of the reason why that case succeeded was because there was a research-based argument,” Dodds said. “I think it’s important, when we’re talking about advocacy, that we give lawyers the tools necessary to make effective arguments.”
Dodds, Farley, and Sundquist said that they are exploring options for the institute: forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or becoming part of Albany Law School through official channels.
Whatever form the institute takes, they plan to keep its work going—and for it to be part of the solution. “The future for everyone is incredibly difficult to project,” said Farley. “I think we’re in the process of making the future right now.”
The Institute for Racial Justice Research and Advocacy encourages alumni involvement. To contact the institute, email firstname.lastname@example.org.