June 4, 2020 - A Message from Dean Hellwig on Our National Crisis

Dear members of the W&L Law School community,

Earlier this week, I wrote a brief message to the returning members of our student body to convey my sadness and utter bewilderment that our nation had witnessed, yet again, another senseless killing of a Black man by those empowered to protect society.  While that degree of injustice inflicts searing damage to the soul of our country, that pain and degradation is focused on members of the Black community whose daily existence puts them at risk of harassment at best and, at worst, racially-motivated violence.  That prospect is something that I, and many others in our community, simply cannot imagine.  Yet for the Black community, the typically unimaginable can be commonplace.   

Of course, racially-motivated denials of human dignity are nothing new; they have been with us since the founding of our country and before.  A poignant sign I saw at a peaceful protest on the streets of downtown Lexington yesterday afternoon - one I am proud to say was organized by recent graduates of our school - read "George Floyd's last 8 minutes and 46 seconds was 250 years in the making."   Mr. Floyd's death, coming in the wake of so many other killings of members of the Black community that are difficult to fathom, appears to have broken the dam on outrage, sadness, and pleas for mercy that have been building for years as a result of systemic racism.   

And yet, despite this harsh reality, there exists reason for optimism.  Over the past days, we have seen numerous student groups step forward to express solidarity with Black Americans by reiterating their commitment to the pursuit of justice and equality, both in our law school and in the legal profession they will soon enter.  Those statements of mutual support and concern are strong, profound, and ultimately uplifting.  They speak to the true aspirations of our community.   

I and my colleagues on the faculty and staff are fortunate that we can play a role in helping prepare our students for this work.   To advocate to right individual wrongs.  To identify and challenge structural inequities in the legal system.  To promote civil liberties and human rights.  To pursue equal treatment under the law, both as written and as applied.  Yet we also recognize the need to focus on the environment in which our students engage in this preparatory work.  I am proud of the community we have at W&L Law, but I also understand that progress awaits.  A key step in that progress is to ensure that every student feels a true sense of belonging at our school.     

Belonging.  Increasing that feeling among all members of our community, and particularly those who too often have found themselves on the margins, is how I would define success.  This may not be a quick or easy fix, but I look forward to working with all of you on that path.   

Brant Hellwig
Dean and Professor of Law