Changing the face

Law school celebrates commitment to diversity and Academic Resource Center 25th anniversary

When Judge Mark Chow graduated from the law school in 1979, he was the only person of color in his class. He was one of the early benefactors of the law school's efforts to reach out to underrepresented groups, which has grown into the acclaimed Academic Resource Center.

Judge Mark Chow

Judge Mark Chow '70, shares a laugh at the anniversary celebration. Photos by Marcus Donner.

"Everyone who was in the program, nobody else wanted," he said.  "Everyone told me, "Nope, you can't make it,' but this law school was the only place I was aware of that was willing to take a look at other factors than the culturally biased LSAT. I was very fortunate."

Today, Seattle University School of Law is the Northwest's most diverse law school and is nationally recognized for inclusive environment. One of the pillars of that commitment is the life-changing Access Admission Program and Academic Resource Center, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this fall

"Among the things I most love about Seattle University School of Law are its diverse faculty and student body and its commitment to equal justice," Dean Mark C. Niles said. "ARC is at the heart of that."

The celebration recognized the law school's uninterrupted commitment to access and diversity in the legal profession through the ARC Access Admissions Program and its Early-entry predecessor and honored the more than 700 alumni who have enhanced the profession with their service. This program, one of the few remaining true access programs in the country, is literally changing the face of the legal profession. An anonymous donor who also believes in that mission has created an endowment of more than $8 million for ARC scholarships.

ARC alumni and students

Professor Dave Boerner poses with a group of alumni and students, who are all grateful for his work over the years.

The Access Admission Program considers an applicant's life experience and promise in addition to traditional admission criteria, and ARC provides the support necessary for their success. Given access to legal education, ARC alums enrich the law school and the profession. Although they comprise only 10 percent of the student population, ARC students are disproportionately overrepresented as faculty scholars, Student Bar Association presidents and graduation speakers. They go on to be leaders in the legal profession, bar associations and their communities. They continue to serve the law school long after they graduate.

The ARC program co-founded by Professors Dave Boerner and Paula Lustbader '88 25 years ago, has a solid program of support, which begins with specially designed summer coursework. The early days of the program were much different, Chow said.

Students took courses in the summer, including torts, along with second-year students being graded on a steep curve, and had to pass all of them. Chow recalls only he and two other passed - and many of the others didn't make it through all three years.  

Armstrong and Lustbader

James Armstrong ’00 and Professor Paula Lustbader ’88, talk about ways everyone can help diversify the legal profession at a CLE as part of the anniversary.

"There weren't too many of us left at the end," he said. "The way they have it structured now really does try to help people instead of letting them in and saying, 'good luck.'"

After law school, Chow was a King County deputy prosecutor, helping establish the pioneering Mental Health Court. He worked in private practice and served as legal counsel for Mayor Charles Royer. He was elected to the bench in 1991 - the first Asian American in the state to serve at the District Court level, and served on the Judicial Education Committee, making sure diversity issues were incorporated into curriculum.

Like Chow, ARC alumni are thriving in all forms of practice. They are state and federal court clerks; partners and associates; prosecutors and defense attorneys; public interest lawyers; attorneys for nonprofit organizations; educators; corporate counsel and judges.

Graduates came from as far as Texas and Hawaii to pay tribute to the program. One after another, alumni thanked Lustbader and Boerner for their support, skills and encouragement and spoke with heartfelt thanks for the chance the program gave them.

Chow's son, Michael, graduated in May, was able to hood him at graduation.

"It was such an honor," he said. "My son and I owe so much to Seattle U."

A broad reach

The law school's dedication to diversity extends well beyond the ARC program, knowing it enriches the experience for all students and alumni. That commitment includes recruiting faculty and students from the broadest range of backgrounds and experience and working to create a more diverse legal profession, through a variety of curricular and programmatic initiatives.

Among the many ways the law school promotes diversity:

  • Students can take courses on a variety of subjects related to diversity taught by national recognized critical race scholars. A Law and Social Inequality Focus Area provides a range of courses dealing with disparities based on race, poverty and gender.
  • Professor Robert Chang, Executive Director of the law school's Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, co-chairs the Task Force on Race and Criminal Justice, a coalition of judges, legislators, law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, academics and representatives from other legal community and community organizations that came together to investigate and challenge racial bias in the criminal justice system.
  • The law school hosted the third biennial Promoting Diversity in Law School Leadership Workshop to encourage and assist members of underrepresented groups to pursue deanships and other university and law school leadership positions.  
  • A year-round Lawyering in a Diverse World series offers workshops designed to empower students with skills and tools on a variety of issues related to diversity.
  • The Racial Justice Leadership Institute is a new professional development opportunity to faculty and staff as part of our commitment to create a positive climate for all members of the law school community.
  • Events planned for the spring will also look at issues related to diversity, including a symposium the marking the 25th Anniversary of the United States v. Hirabayashi Coram Nobis Case Feb, 11; a CLE on Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System Feb. 16-17;  and a colloquium re-examining Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" 50 years after publication March 9.

Dean Mark C. Niles said the law school is continually looking for ways to embrace and promote diversity.

"Each generation has its own diversity issues and objectives," Niles said. "Progress in some areas should never be used as a reason not to remain vigilant in the ongoing mission of creating a just, equitable and inclusive world."

View a video about the ARC program.

Winter 2011-12