President George H. W. Bush said, "We are a nation of communities... a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky." Like the nation, the University of Houston Law Center is comprised of many brilliantly diverse communities.
The Law Center has a long legacy of educating students who, through the power of legal education and their grit and determination, have been pioneers in their communities. Justice Ruby Kless Sondock was in the 1962 graduating class, which consisted of only a handful of women. She went on to become the first woman to serve on the Texas Supreme Court in its regular session. In 1970, James Lemond was the first African American to graduate from the Law Center and later became the first African American partner at the Winstead Firm. Raul Gonzalez was the child of migrant farm workers from Mexico, who worked in the fields as a youth. He graduated from the Law Center in 1966, and in 1984 became the first justice of Hispanic/Latino descent to serve on the Texas Supreme Court. In the 1970s, Phyllis Frye transitioned from male to female and was out while a student at the Law Center; she went on to become the first openly transgender judge in our nation's history. Rehan Alimohammad, a partner at Wong Fleming, graduated from the Law Center in 2001. He served as the Chair of the Board for the State Bar of Texas, the first Asian American to serve in that capacity.
As Dean, I am very proud of the Law Center's legacy and commitment to this brilliant diversity. I do my best to honor this legacy and ensure that our different communities feel included and remain stitched together. In a very global world and an increasingly diverse nation, it is not only important that our students are well trained lawyers, but also that they are culturally competent in working with, reporting to, supervising, and arguing before individuals from different backgrounds. UHLC provides an educational laboratory for all our communities to come together, to learn from each other, and most importantly, to celebrate each other.
First, we have geographical diversity. While 86 percent of our student body is from Texas, 14 percent come from around the world. Save for Antarctica, our 16,000 alumni are located on every continent. During my deanship, I have reached out and hosted events for alumni located in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Mexico City, Phoenix, Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Washington, D.C., and I will be hosting an alumni event in Miami for the first time in early August.
Second, we have religious diversity. While we have faculty, staff, and students from all faiths and traditions, there are also those who are nonobservant. We try to have inclusive celebrations at our annual holiday parties. Each December, the dean's office is decorated with items from a variety of faiths and customs. One year, I sang the Dreidel song at our holiday party to commemorate Chanukah. When a major Law Center event is scheduled on a religious holiday, we try to accommodate affected members of the Law Center community. For example, we held a private graduation ceremony for one student who observance of the Sabbath on Saturday prevented him from participating in the regularly scheduled graduation.
Third, we have political diversity. Students, faculty and staff represent all political and ideological perspectives. The Law Center's student organizations, such as the right-leaning Federalist Society and left-leaning American Constitution Society, work together to hold events to educate and inform each other. For example, they co-hosted former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, Chase Untermeyer, who discussed the political appointment process.
Fourth, we have racial and ethnic diversity. For the past two years, the Law Center's first year entering class has had broad representation of students, almost 40 percent of whom have been racial and ethnic minorities, including a little over 20 percent of Latino/Hispanic origin. These percentages have been the highest representation of members of these groups in the Law Center's history. About 20 percent of our faculty also represent racial/ethnic and minority communities.
Fifth, our community includes those irrespective of whom they love, and we protect their right. In accordance with ABA guidelines, we provide that all employers (unless otherwise exempt by law) who use our placement services must comply with our nondiscrimination policy "assuring that it is an equal-opportunity employer, offering employment without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, veteran status, genetic information, or disability." Our LGBTQ students have a student group called Outlaw, which provides dialogue and discussion important to their community.
Lastly, we have an award-winning Pipeline Program designed to provide college students with the tools necessary to increase their opportunities to go to law school. The program is designed to increase diversity among college students who are either low income, first generation college students, or from groups underrepresented in the legal profession.
Our important legacy of diversity and inclusion, along with forward-thinking programs and initiatives, work to make the Law Center a thriving community for individuals of all backgrounds. Our graduates will be better lawyers because they will have the opportunity to learn from each other and to be a part of a very inclusive community.
Leonard M. Baynes
Dean & Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center
The University of Houston Law Center
100 Law Center
Houston, TX 77204-6060