SLU LAW Expands DEI Efforts with Help of Local Law Firms, Legal Community
In an effort to expand its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, Saint Louis University School of Law has connected with local law firms and alumni to improve the lives of underrepresented students. This fall, the law school launched its Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (DIA) Scholarship Program to provide financial support for marginalized individuals pursuing a law degree. In addition, the school created the Alumni Deans Committee to better understand and resolve issues facing underrepresented students and members of the legal community.
The new scholarship program includes the Simon Law Firm, P.C., Endowed Diversity Scholarship, which provides $5,000 for an upper-division student, and the Evans & Dixon Diversity Scholarship, which provides $2,000 for a first-year student. Both scholarships are renewable, with preference given to students who are historically underrepresented or who demonstrate financial need. This is an important distinction when compared with most of the law school’s other scholarships, which generally go toward the cost of tuition — rather than living expenses — and are merit-based, says Belinda Dantley, SLU LAW’s assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“We wanted to address the issue of helping students while they were students when it comes to their living expenses, but also break down the fallacy of meritocracy,” she says. “We recognize that so many students who produce great scores and great grades tend to be from families that are well-resourced, while students who maybe don’t have the highest scores or the highest GPAs were more than likely under-resourced for a good majority of their lives.”
Dantley credits the leadership of Dean William Johnson and the dedication and generosity of both Simon Law Firm, P.C., and Evans & Dixon for making this scholarship program possible. Dean Johnson and leaders from both law firms recognized that helping students overcome significant financial barriers on the path to success would make a true impact, especially for students of color, who tend to graduate with more law school debt than their white peers. Each law firm donated a minimum of $100,000 so the scholarships could be endowed.
Dantley also credits Dean Johnson’s leadership in helping to establish the newly created Alumni Deans Committee, which held its first meeting in summer 2023.
“Dean Johnson wanted to stand up this committee to help guide him in issues that may come up in the law school, with the understanding that our alumni come from a wealth of different backgrounds and have so much experience that he wanted to tap into, specifically around DEI issues,” Dantley says. “It’s something that’s important to Dean Johnson, but he’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything about these issues and the solutions with problems that arise at the law school.”
The committee will help guide SLU LAW in addressing outside political instances, such as the murder of George Floyd, that affect students' lives. It includes alumni as well as other members of the legal community, including leaders of local affinity bar associations. “When we had our first meeting, we came to an understanding that not only will these alumni and legal practitioners help us as a law school make sure that we are getting different perspectives for problems that arise, but also that this committee will be a support system to each other,” says Dantley.
This innovative committee, which plans to meet quarterly, is just one of the many ways that SLU LAW hopes to serve as an exemplar to other institutions when it comes to promoting DEI.
“It’s very important for us at SLU LAW,” Dantley says, “to continue to put things into practice with the hopes that we are making not only the law school better, but the legal community better.”