Stanford Law School's Black Students' Group Will No Longer Help Law School Recruit Minority Students in the Wake of Duncan Apology

Group decries 'scapegoating' of diversity dean and 'White supremacist practices'

Stanford students protest in Feb. 2022 / Getty Images
April 21, 2023

Stanford University's Black Law Students Association will no longer help the university recruit black students after the law school's dean, Jenny Martinez, apologized in early March to Fifth Circuit appellate judge Kyle Duncan.

The students cited what they described as the "scapegoating" of the school's diversity dean, Tirien Steinbach, for an incident last month in which students disrupted Duncan's remarks and Steinbach egged them on.

"The apology was intimately aligned with White supremacist practices," the group's board wrote in a letter to the administration, which was posted on Instagram earlier this month. "We cannot, in good faith, participate in recruiting Black students into a community more concerned with palliating wealthy, White conservative donors than the 'student-focused and community-inspired' legal education [Stanford Law School] promotes."

As such, the group said it would "boycott official admit events" for the class of 2026 and encourage prospective students to go elsewhere. It's the second boycott to which the law school has been subjected: James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, the circuit court judges who said last year that they would no longer hire clerks from Yale Law School, earlier this month announced a similar clerkship moratorium on Stanford, citing the school's refusal to punish the students who shouted down Duncan.

The law school administration laid the blame for those antics squarely on Steinbach, who at one point took the podium from the judge and told him his work had "caused harm." In their apology to Duncan, Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Martinez, the law school dean, said that Steinbach's intervention was "inappropriate." Steinbach has been on leave since March, and the law school has not indicated when or if she will return.

"Stanford's administration has actively marginalized its Black community, most recently by scapegoating Dean Tirien Steinbach," the Black Students Association wrote. "Dean Martinez and President Tessier-Lavigne's statements continuously minimize Duncan's behavior and the impact of his work."

The letter is the latest snag in Stanford's efforts to appease free speech advocates without sparking a full-scale revolt from activists. After Martinez apologized to Duncan, as many as 100 students protested her first-year constitutional law course, plastering fliers around her classroom and surrounding her as she exited it. Two weeks later, when the embattled dean outlined the steps Stanford was taking to protect free speech, she acknowledged her course of action would "not please everyone"—"not least of which those who have demanded that I retract my apology to Judge Duncan and those who have demanded that students be immediately expelled."

The riptide from both groups has put Stanford in a tough spot. Dissatisfied with the soft-gloved treatment of the hecklers, law professors, politicians, and state bar associations have all joined Ho and Branch's pile-on, using the powers at their disposal to make life difficult for the elite law school.

But bowing to that pressure could come at a cost. Like undergraduate admissions offices, law schools go to great lengths to boost minority representation. If Stanford's own students begin undermining its admissions efforts—especially those aimed at African Americans—the school may decide that a clerkship boycott is a price worth paying to maintain its diversity.

Black students have "historically contributed an extensive amount of free labor to assist the University" in recruitment, the letter said. "But we are continually overlooked by the administration when it makes significant decisions—as evidenced by the institution's condoning of Judge Duncan's behavior."

The Black Law Students Association, which is led by Ashton Woods and Cheyenne Joshua, and the law school's admissions office did not respond to requests for comment.

The letter also aired a number of grievances that it said predated the Duncan incident. Stanford, the Black Law Students Association argued, had hobbled the group's ability "to create a safe space for its members," and—despite black students' "free labor"—the school's admissions policies "reproduce and reify White supremacy, classism, and colorism."

The group also slammed Stanford for allowing "internet harassment" and the "doxxing of fellow students"—apparently a reference to the Washington Free Beacon's reporting, which included the names of several students, such as Denni Arnold, who organized the protest.

"Based on the administration's handling of DEI, we unequivocally share a vote of no confidence in the current state of the administration's ability to the administration's willingness to adequately consider and respect the needs of Black students and administrators," the group said. "We hope this letter will urge the administration to restructure its processes, lend credence to marginalized communities, and truly acknowledge and combat its practices of exploitation and domination moving forward."