Talking About Race


In our work on the Habits, we realized that sustained conversations about race were often difficult ones. We had also heard from our teaching colleagues at conferences that while the Habits were useful, they did not go far enough in helping teachers plan for and facilitate learning about racial justice.  Some students were missing the knowledge needed to participate meaningfully in those conversations.  In conversations, both planned and unplanned, students and we continued to be challenged by microaggressions in the classroom and our practice.  The social-political conversations increased our challenges as students came to law school with substantially different life experiences and worldviews.

To address these challenges for ourselves, our students, clinical colleagues, and practicing bar, we began to focus more explicitly on racial justice and talking about race. We saw improving our ability to talk about race with our students and in our practice as a worthy goal in itself. Mostly, we saw the ability to talk openly and frankly about race as essential to improving racial justice. This ability to have honest, authentic conversations were essential to helping our students be better lawyers in meeting clients’ goals and our own personal and professional responsibilities to create a more just legal system.

This started us on a journey of presentations and writings about subtopics within this broader topic: microaggression, implicit bias, challenging assumptions, classroom conversations, and skills and knowledge that students needed to engage in these conversations. We wrote a chapter, Talking About Race, in which we detailed many of our ideas about how to teach and talk about race in the clinical classroom.  We encourage you to read that chapter as it gives a background to the website material. Our goal for this website is not to repeat what is included in the chapter but instead to give you sample lesson plans, hypos, and videotapes that you can use in class, CLE training, or faculty workshops on these topics.

The website organizes this information in 4 topics: Managing Classroom Conversations About Race; Challenging Assumptions and Connection to Habits; Recognizing & Responding to Microaggressions; Learning Goals.

In the Managing Classroom Conversations, you can find tools and techniques for handling difficult classroom conversations about Race – what we have called the “fraught moment.”   We also address classroom dynamics that influence the fraught moment.  We explore how to establish ground rules or community agreements as well as identify teaching practices and skill-building to engage in the everyday classroom conversations that help students and us engage when the topic becomes riskier or “fraught.”

In Challenging Assumptions and Connection to Habits, we have suggestions for how to introduce concepts such as implicit and confirmation bias, ethnocentric thinking, attribution theory as well as ways to challenge these ways of thinking. The Habits as well as the work on Doubt and Belief are meant to help us challenge assumptions. We give ideas for how to link all of these practices as ones that challenge assumptions.

In the section on Microaggressions, we give ideas about how to teach students to recognize and name microaggressions as well as how to develop a repertoire of responses when they experience microaggressions or unintentionally initiate them.

Finally, the Learning Objectives page identifies the skills, knowledge, and motivation that students need to do this work as lawyers.