For me, the arrival of a new school year is always a time of anticipation, possibility and excitement about beginnings. That time is now upon us: our new LL.M. class arrived for orientation last week; our 1Ls begin their legal education today, and our 2L and 3Ls will return to our community in just a few more days.
To all who are new to the law school, I warmly welcome you; to those who are returning, I offer an equally warm welcome back to UCLA Law.
But my excitement about the new year is muted by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like so many of you, I was left furious and horrified by viewing images of the protesters with their Confederate and Nazi flags and slogans, by hearing the blatantly racist, anti-Semitic and hate-filled chants, and by learning of the horrific loss of Heather Heyer's life caused by the driver who plowed into pedestrians, counter-protesters and other vehicles.
What happened this weekend was especially painful for me because for more than a decade, Charlottesville was my home. I began my teaching career at UVA Law School, for which I still feel great affection. Both of my children were born in Charlottesville and I lived just two blocks from Emancipation Park, where Saturday's rally was scheduled. My heart goes out to that community as people there work to repair and heal.
Today, in the wake of the violence, I find myself needing to say things that I fervently wish could go without saying. So let me state plainly and in the strongest terms possible: UCLA Law condemns and deplores white supremacy in all its names and forms. Period. The white nationalist and Nazi viewpoints on display in Charlottesville were vile and abhorrent. We stand loudly, firmly and passionately against bigotry, hate and racism.
As the dean of this great law school, I will defend the critical importance of freedom of speech, including the freedom of others to speak in favor of values I abhor. But I will equally use my voice and encourage you all to use yours to stand up for the core values that I believe all of us in this community do share, including a fundamental belief in equality, a strong rebuke of racism, and a passion and a commitment to justice and to improving our world.
As a great law school at a world-class public university, we must stand firmly against intolerance and bigotry. And as a great public law school in one of the most diverse cities on this planet, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to further the rule of law's operation in pursuit of true equality for all and in support of the fundamental values that capture our nation at its best. Today, that dream of a "more perfect union" is, at best, a work in progress, particularly for communities of color and other communities that have historically been disenfranchised and devalued. But it is a work worthy of our continued energy and fierce engagement.
I do not mean to suggest that here at UCLA Law we'll all agree on the details of how to make our nation or our own community better, nor on the precise meaning of big terms such as "equality," "justice" and "fairness." We won't. Our students, staff and faculty reflect many backgrounds, experiences, identities, political perspectives and voices — and we are the better for it. I hope that we can and will talk across those differences about how to make our community, our state and our nation better tomorrow than it is today. Those are questions we need to ask and conversations we need to have. And as we do that, I hope we can engage with one another with open hearts and open minds — and with civility, decency, and true respect for difference. Learning to do precisely that – to advocate with passion but simultaneously to engage with genuine respect for those who in good faith have a different perspective – is, in my view, part of what a legal education is all about.
Finally, I want to make clear the material distinction between legally protected expression and expression that is in keeping with our core values of civility, inclusivity and respect. Within our own community of learning, it is worth remembering that merely because we may have the right to say something doesn't make it the right thing to say. As we embark on the start of this academic year and as we embark on critically important conversations about our community, our nation, our hopes, our fears, and how we can make a difference, I encourage all of us to remain mindful of UCLA's Principles of Community.
Wishing you peace, compassion and continued hope as we begin the year together,
Jennifer L. Mnookin
Dean, UCLA School of Law
David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Professor of Law