A recent conversation with Elon University's inaugural director of inclusive excellence for graduate and professional education - first published in the Summer 2021 Elon Law News Bulletin - featured advice for promoting the values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in both the classroom and the workspace.
Morolake (Laké) Laosebikan-Buggs joined the Elon University community earlier this year as its inaugural director of inclusive excellence for graduate and professional education.
The position offers critical assistance to strategic commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism as well as collective institutional support of the university’s growing population of graduate and professional students.
She sat down recently for a conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a focus on her responsibilities at Elon Law – and how everyone plays an important role in making the law a more just profession.
What are some of your early observations about the status of equity and inclusion in the legal academy and the legal profession?
Seeing the ABA make strong statements regarding law schools needing diverse student bodies, faculties, and staff, tells me that the legal profession is aware of the issues. I love seeing an institution like Elon creating positions like mine to ask critical questions.
There’s an acknowledgement that this is a field that has an under-representation of people of color, and an underrepresentation of women. And while our numbers – let’s be honest, they’re outstanding, with regard to 30% students of color at Elon Law – we must continue to strengthen our diversity with faculty and staff.
Our students are talking about issues of racism, inclusivity, and micro-aggressions here in the law school and in the profession as a whole. Those things are real. Representation is a great start but we need to continue to think about how our policies, processes, and procedures affect our underrepresented communities here at Elon.
You’ve said that DEI is something we should all strive to promote and that it isn’t limited only to those with job titles that include the term. Can you elaborate?
Each of us has some form of ordinary privilege, and that’s good news, because that means almost all of us have more influence than we may realize. I am cisgendered, married, Christian. These are identities I don’t have to hide or worry about. It is ordinary privilege. Ordinary privilege blends in with the norms and people around us, and so it is easily forgotten.
Research repeatedly confirms that those with ordinary privilege have the power to speak up on behalf of those without it, and they have particularly effective influence when they do. For many of us looking for an opportunity to fight bigotry and bias in the workplace or in our broader culture, we may be missing the opportunity that is staring back at us in the mirror: using the ordinary nature of who we are as a source of extraordinary power.
How might Elon Law evolve over the next five years with a stronger and more strategic approach to DEI?
As law school applications go up, we’re going to continue to be challenged by diverse students who have not always been considered as a part of our processes. We hope to convene a group of students, faculty and staff to devise and articulate a law school DEI Strategic Plan, which will give more measurable goals to our efforts in student and faculty recruitment, retention, pipeline programs, and other areas intended to collectively strengthen the law school.
My vision for the law school is that we become a national model of inclusive excellence, demonstrating the ways in which legal education, law schools and the communities they serve can work together proactively to share resources, talents, and solve problems by advancing and infusing the tenets of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all levels of our work.
Any advice for those who’d like to incorporate DEI into their own work and relationships?
First, just be a better ally. We all have to step up to ensure our organizations are more equitable and more inclusive of everyone.
Second, start learning what people who lack ordinary privilege encounter as challenges. Educate yourself and practice getting and receiving feedback from folks who don’t look like you. Sometimes we’re afraid to ask because we don’t want to say the wrong thing. But practice soliciting and receiving that feedback.
Third, look for opportunities to speak and act. Confronting people is one of the many ways we can use our ordinary privilege, but it is not the only way! Ask questions, raise issues, and add perspectives in discussions here at the law school or at your firm. Introduce data, invite people to share their perspective in conversations, and create buzz around ideas. Amplify the views of people not being heard at meetings and bring people back into conversations when they’re being interrupted or shut down.
Finally, be thoughtful about the moments when you may speak for, but over, the communities you’re trying to represent. Right or wrong, we tend to center ourselves in conversations, even if it’s by accident. As an ally, you have to back up and let people speak for themselves, but then speak when you know that’s not being heard.
There are no quick fixes, but if you want some ideas on how you can personally or professionally make a difference, just let me know. That’s exactly why I’m here. When you feel prepared to step up as a champion or an ally, I will be standing right there with you.