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Three University of Houston Law Center alumni discussed racism in society at large, how it can be addressed in the legal profession, their own personal experiences and a number of similar wide-ranging topics during a June town hall, “Racism and What to Do About It.”
The panel was sponsored by the Law Center’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which is co-chaired by Professor Meredith Duncan, the George Butler Research Professor of Law and Assistant Dean
of Diversity, Inclusion and Metropolitan Programs and Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic.
The featured speakers were:
• Kirk Dobbins ’93, Vice President and Regional Counsel of Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Ore.
• Tiana Sanford ’08, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney
• Richard Craig Smith, LL.M. ’00, a partner at Quinn Emanuel in Washington, D.C.
Among the first questions posed to the panelists was how they have overcome obstacles throughout their personal and professional lives.
Dobbins referenced the term “code-switching,” which helps
you communicate effectively as an African American in your neighborhood versus the work world, and how he was taught from an early age that he would have to meet a higher level of expectations than non-minority classmates or colleagues.
“It’s definitely been a journey,” he said. “The exterior may show that we’ve got it made and we haven’t had obstacles, but we all know
it took a lot of work. I knew innately I had to do incredibly well
  It was in commemoration of Juneteenth, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston on June 19, 1865 that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Dean Leonard M. Baynes served as moderator.
“We’ve been rocked by the death of Houston native George Floyd, while he was in police custody in Minneapolis,” Baynes said in his welcoming remarks. “We have also seen the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, among other events.
“Even with all of the University of Houston Law Center’s achievements in diversity, we recognize that there is so much more we can do.”
Smith said that in order to confront racism in the legal community and beyond, organizations should be encouraged to institute implicit bias training for all employees.
“In addition to talking about it, it needs to be understood that law firms in particular are in the business of making money,” Smith said. “We spend a lot of our time focused on the next deadline, case or challenge. Sometimes we forget to think about bigger societal issues. But the issue of racism needs to be eradicated at its core.
“We all have to understand we have implicit biases, and the problem is not dealing with that bias and it impacts someone’s decision-making process.”
your race.”
and I had to fit in. Fitting in sometimes was awkward, but I made sure I didn’t settle.
“Fit in as much as you can, but as Black people we’re straddling the line of two worlds. We have the way we live and talk at home, but when we’re in school and work we have to be a somewhat different person.”
Sanford added to Dobbins’ point that many of these experiences are universal throughout the Black community. She emphasized the need for having a strong support system.
“There is absolutely no way that I would be sitting where I am today if it were not for an incredible village and community,” she said. “They had to be intentional and put in work because they understood the world was not built for me. The most difficult part personally and professionally is what is commonly referred to as microaggressions – they happen everywhere. They are the things that happen to us in our spaces that are not explicitly meant to be hurtful or harmful but reflect what the messenger thinks about you simply because of
Briefcase 2020
Dean Leonard M. Baynes; Kirk Dobbins ’93, Vice President and Regional Counsel of Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Ore.; Tiana Sanford ’08, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney; and Richard Craig Smith, LL.M. ’00, partner at Quinn Emanuel in Washington, D.C.

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