Steven Bender, an associate dean and professor of law at Seattle University School of Law, is the recipient of the 2024 Society of American Law Teachers’ (SALT) Great Teacher Award for his significant contributions to teaching, legal education, and mentoring.
The society’s highest honor celebrates educators for “the incorporation of social justice themes in the classroom and innovative curricular design in order to incorporate diversity and access to justice,” as well as for their commitment to “advance social justice and equality through advocacy and mentoring.”
Legal luminaries such as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have received the award. Seattle U Law Professor Emerita Lisa Brodoff was also a recipient in 2019.
In an email to Bender, SALT Co-Presidents Olympia Duhart and Allyson Gold wrote: “We are thrilled to recognize your lifelong commitment to advancing social justice through advocacy, teaching, mentoring, and extraordinary service.”
“Professor Bender, of course, has exemplified all of these qualities beautifully, for decades,” said Dean Anthony E. Varona. “I am proud to work with him every day on fulfilling Seattle U Law’s mission of promoting social justice, academic excellence, and diversity in our classrooms as we educate the next generation of lawyers, judges, and policymakers.”
In his 12 years at Seattle U Law, Bender has focused particular attention on making law school more accessible to people who are underrepresented in the legal profession.
He helped establish the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program at Heritage University, a partnership between Heritage, the Northwest Justice Project, and the state’s three law schools, Seattle U Law, the University of Washington School of Law, and Gonzaga University School of Law. Funded by an LSAC grant, the program seeks to encourage more Latinx and Indigenous students from Central Washington to consider law school and legal careers.
Bender also spearheaded Seattle U Law’s annual LawYours event, dedicated to helping Puget Sound-area high school students from underserved backgrounds explore the field of law.
Most recently, Bender became co-director of Seattle U Law’s new Technology, Innovation, Law, and Ethics (TILE) Program, which combines social justice with tech by allowing students to study the legal disciplines and ethical principles needed for a career in one of the many technology-related areas of law.
“I'm honored to be in the company of so many luminaries whose work in and out of the classroom informed my own work,” Bender said. “SALT has been a vital presence and catalyst in the legal academy for 50 years now, and our classrooms and students are the better for its tireless activism and organizing.”
Bender will accept the award at the SALT Annual Celebration, to be held at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., in early January.
Before joining the Seattle U Law faculty in 2011, Bender taught at the University of Oregon School of Law for two decades. He is a national academic leader in the areas of critical theory, especially Latina and Latino Critical Legal Theory, and immigration law and policy, as well as an expert in real estate law. He is the author of numerous books, book chapters, and law review articles. His most recent co-authored books include "Critical Justice: Systemic Advocacy in Law and Society" (West Academic 2021) and "LatCrit: From Critical Legal Theory to Academic Activism" (NYU Press 2021).
SALT is a group of law school professors, administrators, librarians, academic support experts, students and affiliates “committed to advancing teaching excellence, social justice, and diversity,” according to its website.