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Panelists discuss the need for Asian American representation in law during seminar led by UH Law Center’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee

April 21, 2021 - In response to an increase of assaults and fatal attacks against Asian Americans across the country, the University of Houston Law Center recently hosted a virtual event, "Combating Anti-Asian Violence."

The discussion touched on how to define hate crimes and how they are prosecuted, areas of interest to the Asian community and numerous other topics.

“The Law Center community stands against racism and violence directed at the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” Dean Leonard M. Baynes said. “We condemn racism and discrimination in all forms and will work to serve as anti-racists, committing to eradicating racism from the nation and community and will work to identify and challenge systemic prejudice wherever it exists.”

The panel was co-sponsored by the Asian Law Students Association and the Law Center's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which is co-chaired by Professor Meredith J. Duncan, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Metropolitan Programs and Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic.

Panelists included:

  • Justice Frances Bourliot ’07, of the 14th Court of Appeals for the State of Texas
  • Sharad S. Khandelwal, a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas, and the Deputy Criminal Chief of the Human Rights and Organized Crime Section
  • Gordon Quan ‘77, the managing partner and co-founder of the Quan Law Group PLLC.

Hoffman provided a lecture on anti-Asian legislation and judicial opinions and served alongside Reika A. Nakayama, president of the Asian Law Students Association, as a moderator.

In Khandewal's remarks, he spoke about how the process of prosecuting a hate crime differs from other criminal acts of violence.

"It's not just an assault or murder case," he said. "It's a hate crime because there's not a single victim in these cases. It's not an attack on one person, two people or multiple people. It's an attack on a community. That is the interest we are trying to vindicate when we prosecute hate crimes.

"The Department of Justice is absolutely committed to the prosecution of hate crimes. In fact, the attorney general has made it the No. 2 priority for the department behind combating domestic violence extremism," Khandelwal said.

Bourliot, who has served on the 14th Court of Appeals in Texas since 2019, described her background and said part of her inspiration in participating in the political process was to increase the visibility of Asian Americans and to encourage other Asian American women.

"I went to law school because I wanted to give voice to the voiceless," Bourliot said. "When I was in college and growing up I was often one of the very few Asian American students, and it was an experience a lot of people didn't really understand.

"Running for office was important for me because I really did want to bring my background to the court. The second reason is I was struck that there were no Asian American justices. I am the only Asian American female that is on the court of appeals in Texas out of 80 justices."

While acknowledging the recent tragedies involving Asian Americans, Quan said that it provides an opportunity that affords the Asian American community a bigger platform to vehemently denounce such acts of hatred.

"This outrage against Asian Americans is the latest, but it's not the first," Quan said. "Asian Americans have fought to be in this country legally when they were deemed to be inferior and not worthy of being Americans.”

From a local perspective, Quan noted that the Asian community in Houston is fairly young - less than 1,000 people of Chinese descent were accounted for in the 1960 census.

"We've grown by leaps and bounds. We've learned from this experience that we have a responsibility, in my opinion, to be outspoken. When things are wrong we need to speak out. We are fully vested in this country and we need to be recognized.”

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