Racial Justice Clinic announced for University of Minnesota Law School
As school districts across the country deal with complaints from people who say they oppose teaching critical race theory in the classroom — and some claim the term is often misused as political football — the University of Minnesota Law School is this does not avoid controversy.
The school recently hired a clinical law professor who focused much of her project on the concept centered on how race affects society and the legal system.
Liliana Zaragoza, associate attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will lead the law school’s Racial Justice Law Clinic, which is slated to open in fall 2022.
“I will definitely use the elements of critical race theory to guide the students’ work; this is fundamental,” says Zaragoza, who will work as an assistant professor of clinical law.
She plans to have students hold listening sessions with community members to pinpoint priority issues.
“Racial justice is a lens through which any area of law can be viewed. That’s the beauty of building this clinic and working with students. The downside is that unfortunately there are racial injustices in every area of law. But students will be able to address those injustices,” says Zaragoza, who moved to Minneapolis from New York in March 2020 with her husband, who is from Minnesota.
That was a few months before a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, and the videotaped incident sparked protests and civil unrest across the country. However, the law school job posting Zaragoza applied for was not specifically for a racial justice clinic. Instead, applicants were asked to submit their own ideas.
“Between the urgency of the movement and identifying the gap in racial justice legal advice, I knew this was a gap I would like to fill,” says Zaragoza, who was raised in Tucson, Arizona and was born in the United States a non-citizen.
She adds that Minneapolis is different from other cities she’s lived in because people of color who live there are actually minorities. According to the 2021 U.S. Census, 63.6% of the city’s population was white.
“It’s often said that Minnesota is the best state to live in, but for whom? It has some of the worst inequalities in housing, incarceration and the pay gap,” says Zaragoza. “These are important background facts for where we’re going with the work for racial justice.”
According to a press release, the law school currently has more than 24 clinics.
“The persistence of racial injustice has long damaged communities. But this is a unique moment in the history of our country and city where there is much interest and momentum to seek and embrace forward-looking solutions to address systemic injustices,” said Garry W. Jenkins, Dean of Law School. in release.