Korematsu Center earns prestigious race equity award

May 22, 2019

Derrick Bell was an academic and civil rights activist whose life was dedicated to making educational institutions more inclusive and welcoming. Thanks to work by our Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, even high school students in Tucson, Arizona, feel the lasting effects of his legacy.

Robert ChangThe Korematsu Center at Seattle University School of Law is the 2019 recipient of the Derrick Bell Legacy Award from the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA). Professor Robert Chang, executive director of the center, will receive the award at CRSEA's annual conference later this month.

"We think that Professor Bell would have been proud of the work we did in Arizona," Chang said, adding that the center is honored to receive the award.

The award honors critical race theorists, critical race studies scholars, and progressive educators and activists committed to advancing social justice and educational race equity through their teaching, research, writing, and/or direct community action. This is the first time the recipient is an entire center.

In a case that spanned several years, the Korematsu Center's staff attorneys, along with Seattle U Law students, helped high school students in Arizona fight back against state legislation that led to the termination of their school district's highly successful Mexican American Studies Program. The ethnic studies curriculum celebrated Mexican American history, literature, and voices but was targeted by state officials who said the classes increased racial tensions and promoted radical beliefs.

After a 10-day bench trial in 2017, during which Chang served as co-counsel, a federal judge held that the state law was enacted and enforced with discriminatory intent, in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and viewpoint discrimination under the 1st Amendment. 

The late Professor Bell was deeply committed to advancing and defending educational opportunities for minority students. Early in his career, he oversaw hundreds of school desegregation cases as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. As a law professor at Harvard Law School and dean at University of Oregon School of Law, he took courageous stands to promote the hiring and tenure of minority faculty.

The CRSEA award honoring his legacy is bestowed annually by a jury of scholars. Former Seattle U Law Professors Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado received the award in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

CRSEA is an interdisciplinary consortium of experts who recognize global implications of race and education for minoritized people. Through scholarship, they identify and expose inequities for the ultimate eradication of white supremacy.