four people standing in front of a doorway, pointing at a sign that says Diversity, Equity & Belonging.

Emmanuel Wright '26; Kristen Kelly, associate director of the law school's Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging; Katherine Kio '25; and Theresa Lee '25 emphasize the "belonging" in the office's newly installed sign.

Law school emphasizes ‘belonging’ in diversity initiatives


In what it calls a “subtle, yet important evolution in its commitment to a truly inclusive community,” the School of Law has renamed its diversity, equity and inclusion office to highlight its focus on fostering “belonging.”

“This change is not merely semantic,” says Luis Chiesa, the Dr. Teresa A. Miller Professor of Law and vice dean for the department now known as the Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging (DEB Office). “It reflects a deeper, strategic shift toward recognizing and cultivating an environment where every individual feels that they are an integral and valued member of our community.

“The concept of belonging extends beyond the traditional framework of inclusion, embodying a more comprehensive approach to ensure that all community members feel welcome, valued and connected.”

Inclusion might open the door for participation within a community, says Chiesa, “yet belonging ensures that once inside, individuals feel a genuine connection, appreciated for their uniqueness and able to contribute authentically.

“It addresses the emotional and psychological needs of individuals, ensuring they can engage fully and without reservation, a critical step toward harnessing the full potential of our diverse community.”

Reflecting this philosophy, the DEB Office has organized several initiatives designed to weave the School of Law’s commitment to belonging into the fabric of its institutional culture.

man wearing glasses, smiling.

“This change is not merely semantic. It reflects a deeper, strategic shift toward recognizing and cultivating an environment where every individual feels that they are an integral and valued member of our community.”

Luis Chiesa, Dr. Teresa A. Miller Professor of Law and vice dean
for Diversity, Equity and Belonging

Facilitating open dialogues through inclusive lunchtime discussions:

Recognizing the power of open dialogue by breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of community, the DEB Office has started diversity, equity and belonging-themed lunchtime discussions. These lunches aim to provide a space for faculty and staff to engage in conversations about their experiences, challenges and aspirations related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Similar lunches are offered to students, providing them with a forum to speak openly and decompress.

“By removing structural agendas and allowing conversations to flow organically,” Chiesa says, “we create opportunities for authentic expression and mutual understanding, reinforcing the importance of every voice in our community.”

Deepening connections with a daylong retreat:

The DEB Office’s off-campus retreat serves as a cornerstone event, Chiesa says, bringing together faculty and staff in a “dedicated forum to reflect on and discuss strategies for enhancing diversity and fostering a stronger sense of belonging within our community.” The retreat emphasizes the value of seeing and learning from one another in a setting removed from the day-to-day pressures of academic life, fostering deeper connections and a shared commitment to the law school’s collective progress.

Addressing societal issues through educational programs:

Anticipating and responding to broader societal challenges, the DEB Office organized a series of educational programs addressing a range of topics from antisemitism to Islamophobia. Open to all members of the law school and university communities, they serve as platforms for critical engagement with pressing issues affecting the community and society at large.

“By confronting these topics head-on, we signal our commitment to creating a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for dialogue and learning,” says Chiesa.

In February, the DEB Office collaborated with the law school’s Office of Student Affairs to organize “A Celebration of Free Speech.” This event gave various voices within the law community a platform to explore and reflect on the importance of free speech and its implications for diversity, equity and belonging.

“The goal,” says Kristen Kelly, associate director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging, “was to provide a unique opportunity for students, faculty, staff and community members to engage in meaningful dialogue about the critical role free speech plays in fostering an environment where everyone can show up as they are, further embedding the principles of belonging in our institutional culture.”

Creating pathways and expanding access:

The DEB Office also oversees and implements the Discover Law Undergraduate Scholars Program, a four-week summer program, directed by Kelly and designed for historically underrepresented undergraduates or first-generation college students who have completed their freshman or sophomore year. This summer, the program will welcome its 11th cohort of academically promising students with an interest in learning more about law and the legal profession.

The program offers rigorous courses taught by law professors, mentorship from local lawyers and guidance on the law school admissions process. Participants develop critical thinking, writing and advocacy skills; gain insight into the demands of law school; and learn strategies for LSAT preparation. Additionally, they explore career paths in law and examine how identity impacts participation in the legal discourse community through reflective seminars.

As of fall 2023, a total of 186 scholars have completed the program, and according to Kelly, “46 scholars are enrolled in law school or have graduated from law school, 23 are pursuing or graduated from other graduate degree programs, while 17 scholars are currently enrolled or graduated from UB School of Law.

“We continue to strengthen our community partnerships and expand our recruitment efforts to ensure a robust candidate pool and, as result, we anticipate a diverse 2024 cohort,” says Kelly.