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Rutgers Law Celebrates 50 Year Diversity Program
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Rutgers Gala

Summary: The Minority Student Program at Rutgers was enacted fifty years ago, prompting the need for a celebration of its success and contributions to the legal market.

The Newark riots of 1967 had a big effect on the legal industry. Rutgers Law School noticed the lack of diversity among its students so they enacted the Minority Student Program (MSP). With Newark being a predominantly black populated city run by mostly white officials, the law school saw that introducing more diverse lawyers into the market was critical. A year after the rights, the program was officially created, according to NJ.com.

  
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Former student Savannah Porter-Miller, now a retired administrative law judge from Atlanta, recounted her time at the school, spending hours in the Rutgers Law School library with her classmates. She said, “We were determined that we were going to make it. We came to law school to be lawyers fully prepared to represent anybody in the world.”

Potter-Miller was part of the first MSP inaugural class of 23 students from the North and segregated South. The program was a progressive initiative at the time with a bold goal of doubling the number of black attorneys in the state in the next five years. Rutgers was producing a large number of the attorneys in the state at the time but only had two or three black students at the law school that year. Out of the state’s 8,000 practicing attorneys in 1967, less than 60 were black lawyers.

Once the riots had ended, law school Dean Willard Heckel put the fact that there was a lack of minorities into the spotlight. Frank Asklin, now a retired professor of constitutional law at Rutgers, worked with professor Alfred Slocum to form a committee to address the absence of minorities at the law school and in the state. Askin explained, “We (MSP) changed the composition of the New Jersey bar and eventually the face of the bench.”

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Now, after 50 years, the MSP is still going strong. The alumni of the program returned to their school Saturday night for an evening gala at the Robert Treat Hotel to celebrate the program and its addition to the legal industry. MSP alumnus Sen. Robert Menendez said, “In this country, diversity is not a weakness. It is a strength. I continue to believe that as our law firms, our courtrooms, our board rooms grow more diverse, our country becomes a far more just, more equal place.”

In fifty years, the program has produced over 2,500 graduates, 700 of which attended the event, with many taking on major leadership roles in the state and country. The program helped many students adjust to the rigors of law school by teaching them how to prepare for class, read cases, and be socially conscious lawyers.



A fellow member of the inaugural class, Ollis Douglas Jr., added, “Many of the first 20 people came from an activist background. Rutgers wanted you to go out and give back to the community.”

Charles V. McTeer, a 1972 graduate, did just that. He went back to Mississippi and became a civil rights attorney for over 30 years. “Before we appeared, there were not that many African-Americans who did what we were doing, and the goal was that some of us would become civil-rights lawyers and some of us would become judges in places where there were no judges, where there were no civil-rights lawyers, in local communities, across the South and the North.”

Do you think the program is as important now that things are more diverse? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about law school diversity programs, read these articles:

Photo: NJ Advance Media



 

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