On September 30, 2016, Regent Law faculty hosted the biennial Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools. As a student, it was a privilege to attend and hear professors grapple with contentious topics from a religious perspective. I found Dean Robert Vischer’s talk most enthralling. Dean Vischer, of St. Thomas University, presented about “Institutional Engagement & Institutional Mission – Why Religiously Affiliated Law Schools Should be Deeply and Proactively Engaged with the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” as part of the Pursuing Global Justice panel.
|Dean Robert Vischer
He asserted that religiously affiliated law schools are best equipped—due to our theology and moral formation—to address the ongoing protests and racial unrest plaguing the nation. As powerful as this notion is, his responses during the Q&A following his presentation struck me even more. One attendee asked Dean Vischer how to handle conversations discussing racial injustice when the other person in the conversation brings up high profile cases that, based on a strictly rational view of the facts in that case alone, may not be legitimate.
Dean Vischer began his response by appealing to the tendency of our legal minds to jump to rational analyses in any given situation. It is true that it might not make sense to talk about individual landmark cases juxtaposed to smaller cases with completely different sets of facts. However, Dean Vischer reminded us that these events and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole have a deeper, emotional level to them that surpasses mere reason. Thus, Dean Vischer exhorted attendees to remember that a person’s response to these events is not just about the events themselves. Instead, there’s a much “longer, broader, messier history” at play that underlies the Black Lives Matter movement that a large portion of America simply does not want to acknowledge or deal with.
In order to become involved in the movement, Dean Vischer explained that a 10,000-foot view cannot be our primary experience. Instead, we must make deliberate decisions to step outside of our comfort zones, “and stay out.” Even if we choose not to attend protests, we can simply reach out and listen to an individual’s story to better appreciate the underlying frustrations underlying the entire movement. Moreover, being cognizant of our rational tendencies will facilitate our ability to empathize on a one-on-one basis.
I am grateful that Dean Vischer tackled this topic and shared his personal experiences with us. If we, as one human race, are to affect any social change, we must first work to understand each other.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.