This year’s 27th annual Students of Color Dinner marked a first: the graduation of two students who came to the School of Law by way of DiscoverLaw, the school’s program to introduce promising students of color to the possibilities of a legal career.
Third-year students Brittany Andrews and Ninteretse Jean Pierre were among the attendees at the April 14 dinner, which each year celebrates diversity in the legal community and recognizes graduating students of color. Andrews and Jean Pierre were standout members of the DiscoverLaw program in the summer of 2012.
“These students are evidence that pipelines work,” said Professor Teresa A. Miller, the evening’s keynote speaker, who serves as UB’s vice provost for equity and inclusion. “Of the 79 students who have come through that program in four years, 50 are either currently enrolled in law school or in the admission pipeline for 2016-17.” Two are first-year students at UB Law; nine others have applied to become part of the Class of 2019.
Guests at the dinner, held at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott, heard words of inspiration from Miller and from other professionals who have built successful careers upon their legal training.
As vice provost, Miller coordinates strategies and policies to increase diversity and enhance equity and inclusion for UB students, faculty and staff. In her remarks, she took note of the changes confronting the legal profession, but noted that such changes – and the worry that attends them – have been present for decades.
“The law is an inherently conservative discipline, averse to change,” she said, “and reactions to these changes have ranged from deep pessimism and foreboding to denial. … Be mindful of the changes in the market, but don’t be afraid of them. These changes have not changed the tremendous demand for legal services. The legal profession is changing, but with so much unmet need it is hardly going away.
“In a country that will be majority-minority by 2040, the legal profession understands the need for lawyers who are diverse and culturally competent,” Miller said. “Law does a huge range of things. It orders, it defines, it permits the peaceable redress of grievances, it enables us to write new contracts and do new things. A lot of law ensures the functioning of our democracy. It’s not to be underestimated.”
Two SUNY Law graduates spoke briefly in receiving Distinguished Alumni Awards: Oliver C. Young ’80 and Ranjana Kadle ’96.
“If I can impart any advice to you tonight, it’s this: Don’t sell yourselves short,” said Young, principal court attorney for the New York State Supreme Court, 8th Judicial District. “Go out there and compete for the top jobs in any law firm; compete for jobs in state and federal agencies. If you want to work in the area of public interest law, be the very best. You are prepared to meet the challenges and to compete for any opportunities that are available.”
Kadle, Intellectural Property & Technology Practice Leader and partner at the Buffalo-based firm Hodgson Russ, sounded a similar note. “Believe in yourself. Believe in your abilities. You have the tools, and you need to go out there and really think about how to use them,” she said. “Challenge yourself more than anyone else is challenging you.”
New York State Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, a 2012 law graduate, received the Trailblazer Award, and spoke about her work in representing constituents in her native Bronx: “I am not only making decisions for myself but for those who look like me, which is a great honor.” She also spoke about her legislative support for the Legal Education Opportunity Program, a project of the New York State Unified Court System that prepares students of color for the rigors of law school.
Finally, the Students of Color honored Lisa M. Patterson, associate dean for career services, with the Jacob D. Hyman Faculty Award.
In her remarks, Patterson spoke in personal terms about the question “What are you?” She was able to answer that question more fully when recently, following her adoptive father’s death, she learned about her family of origin.
“That question is important for each of us: What are you?” she said. “There are so many ways to measure how amazing people are. Law school is one of the most ego-crushing experiences you can go through. But I’m here to tell you that the answer to ‘what are you?’ is that you are amazing.”
The Students of Color, comprising groups for students of African-American, Hispanic and Asian American heritage, also awarded “Lift as We Climb” scholarships to a high school senior and a UB freshman, and conferred the Monique Emdin Memorial Award on third-year student Anaiss Rijo, president of the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA).
President’s Awards were given to Larry Waters ’17, vice president of the Black Law Students Association, and to two officers of LALSA: Maria Apruzzese ’17, vice president, and Michael Marrero ’17, secretary.