Tag Archives: racial justice

Questions Remain Around Elena Kagan and Race

by Latoya Peterson

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching with interest the discussions around Elena Kagan and race.

I need to revisit some of my Sotomayor coverage, but I am wondering about the concept of a “thin” resume – comparatively speaking, it would appear that Kagan has far less of a legal paper trail than Sotomayor, yet the idea that she is inherently unqualified seems to be from a quiet corner of the punditry, and not the echoing refrain it became for Sotomayor. But that’s neither here nor there.

The real controversy brewing is over Kagan’s record on race. The first time we heard about Kagan in the racial blogosphere was around the time of the Stephanie Grace scandal, Kagan’s name came up as the Harvard Law School Dean that did not take allegations of racism seriously. Diane Lucas, the Harvard law grad who wrote a guest post for Feministe called “The Racist Breeding Grounds of Harvard Law School” was also quoted in an article about Kagan’s track record with students. According to Lucas:

[...]Lucas says when she and other students asked Kagan to issue a formal apology, set up diversity training and hire a diversity director [after a student roast which parodied actual students with racist and sexist stereotypes] , Kagan refused. Kagan defended the parody as students’ freedom of speech. From that, Lucas concluded that Kagan shirked her responsibility to make Harvard Law School a more racially sensitive place.

As more details emerge about Kagan, it was revealed that her hiring record also reflects a certain type of trend. The New York Times explains:

In the nearly six years that Ms. Kagan was dean, from 2003 to 2009, she hired a total of 43 permanent, full-time faculty members, 32 of whom were tenured and tenured-track. Of those, 25 were white men, 6 were white women and one was an Asian-American woman. Of the other 11, 6 were white men, 2 were women and 3 were minority men (2 black and one Indian), according to a law school official.

Law school officials said the numbers did not reflect the whole story because offers were made to other minority and women scholars; some were declined and some still open. But others said the record spoke for itself.

“Kagan’s performance as dean at Harvard raises doubts about her commitment to equality for traditionally disadvantaged groups,” Guy-Uriel Charles, a black law professor at Duke, wrote last month in an oft-cited post.

After Kagan was selected as Obama’s next nominee, both defenders and detractors came out of the woodwork, making powerful cases based on Kagan’s record. Continue reading