Syracuse Law Introduces New Cultural Competency Curriculum
In May 2021, Syracuse University College of Law faculty voted to require that—beginning with the 1L class entering in Fall 2021—all J.D. students take a course addressing themes and materials of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the second or third year of law school. The aim of this Cultural Competency Curriculum requirement is to help students develop awareness of the ways identity, difference, culture, and explicit or implicit bias can condition and constrain the pursuit of equal justice under law.
"Law students must be prepared to practice in a diverse society so that they can become the best legal professionals possible in whatever legal capacities they serve in diverse local, national, and global communities," explains Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Suzette Meléndez. "By incorporating the Cultural Competency Curriculum into their course of study, law students will learn to meet the legal needs of all clients who have diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives."
Syracuse law students will spend substantial time engaging in coursework that features substantive content relating to inequality, discrimination, cultural context, or cultural competency. By way of this requirement, law students also will learn that legal professionals have the obligation to ensure that the rule of law applies equally to all persons.
Students will be able to complete the two-credit requirement by any one of three approaches, which can include existing College of Law courses that are designated as focusing on DEI areas, case studies or modules beginning in orientation, or a new cultural competency course. Implementation will begin with the incoming JD residential Class of 2024, and it will apply to the JDinteractive online law program class that begins in the Fall of 2022.
Upon receiving the charge by Dean Craig M. Boise, the Curriculum Committee, chaired by Professor Paula Johnson, and the Committee on Inclusion Initiatives, chaired by Associate Dean Meléndez, worked collaboratively to develop the DEI requirement.
"This project involved all segments of the College of Law community—faculty, staff, and students—to meet our institutional responsibility to better prepare our students to serve society in legal capacities," says Johnson. "This means that our College is dedicated to doing the hard work, asking the hard questions, and engaging in problem solving to assure fairness and access to justice for communities throughout our society."
“The cultural competency requirement will provide students understanding of the critical importance of exercising fairness and equality in the legal system," says 3L Mazaher Kaila, Executive President, Student Bar Association. "Students will benefit in numerous ways, with a greater awareness of implicit or unconscious bias, cultural respect, and the ability to see different perspectives. Such a requirement will truly guide students toward effective advocacy for people of all races, genders, sexual orientation, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds."
The extensive work that resulted in this new graduation requirement has been followed by a 1L DEI Summer 2021 Initiative, explains Meléndez. College of Law faculty who teach first-year students have been working and meeting over summer 2021 to determine how DEI themes and material can be woven into the existing 1L curriculum.
"This work is a collaborative and innovative endeavor engaged in by many that reaches into each one of the courses taught for our first-year students, and they will be introduced to such topics and pedagogical approaches during orientation," says Meléndez. "The results of the summer initiative will be implemented in the 2021-2022 academic year and will culminate in an evaluative meeting at the end of each course that has engaged in this process."