Seattle University School of Law welcomed 220 new students this week, and while the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the usual on-campus orientation activities, the excitement of a new academic year prevailed.
Against the backdrop of a global health crisis and widespread outcry for racial justice, this year's orientation speakers emphasized that lawyers and law students have a unique responsibility to help create transformative change.
"If there's a common denominator that connects all lawyers, it's that we are society's problem solvers," said Dean Annette E. Clark '89, adding that lawyers serve a crucial role in safeguarding democracy, the U.S. Constitution, and civil rights.
Lawyers also have a responsibility to help reform the legal system, she said, "so that it no longer perpetuates racism and oppression."
A legal education at Seattle U will foster thoughtfulness, compassion, and expertise that will help students build "bridges of understanding and respect across difference," she continued.
Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu echoed that sentiment when she addressed the students Wednesday evening.
"I need your help to build a more equitable system," she said. "You have ideas, you have the life experience. If you could design a system of justice, what would it look like? How could we inject compassion into it? You're not too new to start now."
With this incoming class, the law school maintains its status as the Pacific Northwest's most diverse law school, with 40 percent students of color. Seventeen percent are LGBTQ and 65 percent are women.
Of this year's 1Ls, 84 percent are full-time students and 16 percent are part-time. Although there's a wide range of ages, the average student is 27 years old.
Sixty-nine percent are from Washington state; in all, 25 states and Washington, D.C., are represented. The new students also represent 90 undergraduate colleges and universities. Because the fall semester will be taught online, to prevent the spread of the virus, students logged in to virtual orientation events from all over, including Alaska, Louisiana, and even 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in the U.S. territory of Guam.
Prior to entering law school, members of the incoming class had a variety of careers and life experiences in areas such as political activism, health care, education, science, and engineering. Four percent are veterans.
Seattle University Provost Shane Martin urged the new students to recognize the responsibility and privilege they will have as law students at this moment in history.
"The legal profession will be more important now than ever in how we as a society come together and understand these sets of issues, how we respond to racism, how we embrace anti-racism and how we move forward," he said.
Additional orientation activities included small discussion groups around "True Justice," a film about civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, and implicit bias training with King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván.