Keeping Race in the Classroom

by Arturo Pineda

“I want to research the emergence of female Latina lawyers in the United Sates during the mid-20th century,” I said to Professor Rohit during office hours for his class on Lawyers as Rebels. I didn’t know how he would react.

He responded by saying, “That’s great!” I let out a sigh of relief as he began to rattle off various prominent Latina female lawyers.

He asked me dozens of questions about my interest in the subject, personal idols, the importance of race in law, and racial trends in the law. He even mentioned that the National Hispanic Bar Association (NHBA) had a branch in New York.

After I left office hours, I felt liberated in the sense that I could explore something personal and relatable to my identity as a Latino. I realized that I didn’t have to continue to learn about a prominent white lawyer; I could learn about an equally prominent Latino lawyer because it interested me.

Later that night at 1AM, I received an email with a long list of prominent female Latina lawyers. It was from Professor Rohit.

He wanted to make sure I had enough people to research and mentioned that he had talked to my Master and Dean about funding a trip to New York so I could visit the NHBA branch in New York and continue my research there.

I was thrilled to read the news. He wasn’t just encouraging me to explore race; he was facilitating the process.

As I skimmed through the links he sent me, I realized that I understood the people I was reading about. I understood them on a personal level because I could relate to them so easily.

This was the research I wanted to carry out, and I was doing it.

Too often, professors try to suppress identity conversations in academic work, but racial identity matters. It has molded my identity, my outlooks, and my academic interests. Because race is an integral part of my character it should not be separated from the college education; rather, it should be welcomingly integrated into the curriculum so that we can better meet the demands of students of color.