Jan. 27, 2021 - The 2021 University of Houston Law Center Spring Workshop Series, "Racial Justice and the Law" began on Monday on Monday, with Professor Bennett Capers of Fordham Law School joining Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Law Center professors and students a virtual discussion of Capers’ work in progress, “The Law School as White Space?”
Capers began his presentation by recalling when he relocated to Connecticut from New York City at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. He took notice of how he hadn’t spoken to another Black person, in-person, in months.
“I’m very much in a white space here in Connecticut,” he said. “I’m perceived as a Black person in a white place.”
Capers said he is used to “white spaces,” which can range from the grocery store where he lives, to attending the Metropolitan Opera pre-pandemic. With these experiences in mind, it made Capers think about law schools as white spaces.
College is often the first real taste of diversity for many people, Capers noted, and while people of color would see areas as white space, white people may view them as diverse. This tension was the genesis for Capers’ current work in progress.
“Part of the goal of this project is to see how differently white space is perceived,” he said. “I wanted to see how law is taught and what is taught in terms of the white space. We rely on and teach the status quo, but we don’t teach how to radically transform the law.”
Capers said everything from the way law is taught, to the architecture of a school or courthouse matters because certain styles send expressive messages about what they cater to and whom they’re for.
“Something as simple as architecture or portraits can send certain messages,” Capers said.
He continued that even at HBCUS, the method of teaching is still grounded in white space. Students may come to law school desiring to change the world, but curriculum is inconsistent with radical change.
Following Capers’ was a question-and-answer period. Inquiries ranged from English language-centric teaching, to obstacles faced by first-generation students, to white-sounding names being prominent in schools.
“I would love to reimagine law school,” Capers said. “My true goal is not to simply imagine a law school going from white space to being inclusive of all racial minorities. I want to take the idea of white space meaning space for white people to white space meaning a blank space, a tabula rasa, a palimpsest, a white page where anything is possible.”
Capers teaches Evidence, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure, and he is the Director of the Center on Race, Law, and Justice at Fordham Law School. His academic interests include the relationship between race, gender, technology, and criminal justice.
Prior to teaching, Capers spent nearly 10 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York and worked at various law firms. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University School of Law. Capers has also been published in the New York Times and other journals, and he also has a forthcoming book about prosecutors slated for publication.