Shakierah Smith ’22 named diversity, equity, & inclusion editor
A discussion over several years has led to a pivotal change for the Buffalo Law Review, with the appointment of the journal’s first editor devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Law Review’s staff voted to name Shakierah Smith ’22 to the position. It carries a broad portfolio focusing on welcoming more underrepresented minorities to its editorial staff and diversifying its published scholarship.
Kevin Hartnett Jr. ’21, outgoing editor-in-chief of the journal, says the move reflects an increasing awareness of the benefits of such outreach. “The position was created to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and to show that it is a priority for us,” Hartnett says. “But in addition to that symbolic value, having a board position dedicated to these issues ensures continued focus and consistency in our DEI efforts, allowing them to endure. It is so important to create an environment of acceptance, understanding and respect, allowing everyone to show up each day to a workplace that is inclusive, not intimidating, and which allows everyone to be their true selves.”
The DEI editor’s lengthy job description defines diversity as “including, but not being limited to, distinctions in race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, first-generation college, graduate or law student status, socioeconomic status and age. We perceive equity to mean treating all members and authors, regardless of their differences, equal and fair. Lastly, we view inclusion to mean including all members and authors, regardless of their distinct attributes, in the overall culture and structure of the journal at large.”
Patrick Callahan ’22, the journal’s incoming editor-in-chief, says Smith was the ideal candidate for the new position. “Shakierah Smith came forward with a wonderful vision on how to achieve the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Law Review. We were thrilled to collaborate with her to create the position and see her elected as our inaugural DEI editor."
Professor Christine Bartholomew, faculty adviser to Law Review, notes that creating a new editor position was harder than it might look—for one thing, it involved revising the journal’s constitution—and carried through multiple successive E-Boards. “This required all hands on deck,” she says. “The process took coordination between the outgoing and incoming board and all the associates. The students worked through a lot of tough questions, but luckily the last few steps came together quickly.”
Diversifying the editorial staff, Bartholomew says, partly means “encouraging underrepresented students to try out, pushing students who are diverse to consider this option, and making sure all students have the tools in place to succeed in the competitive process.”
That’s a goal shared by Smith, who has been talking with DEI editors at other university law reviews about best practices and has researched DEI issues and solutions as part of the exploratory process for creating the position.
“As an African American woman and first-generation student, I believe the creation of the DEI editor position is critical and important,” she says. “Increased diversity in any student-run organization, such as the Buffalo Law Review, can expand worldviews or perceptions, and dispel grossly inaccurate stereotypes about certain groups. Further, having such a position centralizes and brings these important, yet sensitive issues to the forefront of our publication irrespective of changing E-board members. This means that DEI related issues will always be a priority of Law Review; it's a win for everyone!”
Smith says she’s looking to build relationships with student groups at the law school and explore ideas with faculty and staff members. “I plan to work collaboratively with diverse student organizations by hosting events and workshops related to our write-on competition,” she says. “I also plan to meet with diverse student organizations and faculty and staff members to discuss our DEI initiatives, any questions, comments and/or concerns they may have and receive feedback on our initiatives and progress.”
The position is a broad one but seemingly well within the wheelhouse of the high-performing student, who is also a writing fellow in the law school’s LAWR program. Smith grew up in Rochester, a product of the non-traditional public School Without Walls. (Asked if it really had no walls, she laughed: “Everyone always asks that.” It had walls.)
At Rochester Institute of Technology, she studied communications and criminal justice, then stayed another year for a master’s degree in criminal justice. “I always watched Law & Order with my grandmother—I love crime shows,” she says. Among her projects was early research into police-worn body cameras as they were rolled out in Rochester, and how that footage affected the work of prosecutors, public defenders, and City Court judges.
She came to law school expecting “to fight for survivors of molestation and domestic violence,” but has broadened her interests considerably. She’ll test the waters this summer in a virtual internship with the New York City firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where among other practice areas she’s drawn to real estate law.
But she has found a welcoming law school home at UB Law. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life,” Smith says. “The courses have been great, the professors are just amazing, and it’s really a community. I’ve had a great experience.”