At the LexisNexis Equity in the Law symposium on Oct. 28, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law students Nija Bastfield, Alexus McNeal and Songo Wawa presented ideas they had developed as fellows with the LexisNexis African Ancestry Network (AAN) and LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation.
The symposium, held at the Conrad Hotel in D.C., served as an opportunity for the fellows from each of the six law schools at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to share their ideas for addressing racial inequity in the legal system.
Bastfield’s project encourages the integration of digital litigation assistance for marginalized communities. The project proposes developing a mobile application to “improve access to the legal system for individuals accused of criminal traffic violations.” Her recommendations are based on extensive research into the lack of resources and information available for individuals who are arrested during a traffic stop – particularly from marginalized communities. Additionally, Bastfield discusses the impact of the digital divide in perpetuating injustices in the legal system and proposes ways in which the application addresses that issue.
“Working with the Lexis Nexis Rule of Law Foundation has truly been a remarkable experience,” Bastfield said. “This fellowship provided me with the tools to combat systematic racism in different facets of the legal system. I learned how to decipher systemic issues, include multiple viewpoints in my thought processes and develop a presentation using a speaker systems target system.”
McNeal proposed the creation of a “LexisNexis repository of racially diverse case law to help legal scholars, historians and others increase awareness of minority culture and nuances in the law.” McNeal recounted startling statistics that perpetuate a legal system that is not designed to protect or support Black individuals, addressed the imbalances in K-12 social studies classes and detailed legal issues disproportionately impacting African Americans before making her recommendation for redefining legal education. Her proposition includes creating a collection of “casebooks and treatises that would provide law students across the country with a legitimate record of minority group achievements in case law and a window to untold histories of America” and that would increase the cultural competency of law students and the American legal system.
McNeal said, “The LexisNexis symposium was an amazing experience that allowed the LexisNexis Fellows to present solutions to end systemic racism in the legal profession.”
Read all three full projects in the 2022 publication, “Increasing Equity in the Legal System.”
Bastfield: page 100
McNeal: page 40
Wawa: page 34
Wawa’s Ten-Year Plan to the Bar (T-Bar) aims to increase the number of young learners who are prepared for legal education by providing resources that help them become college-ready earlier. The plan proposes a webinar series introducing high school students to pre-law undergraduate students, current law students, financial advisors and attorneys from both traditional and non-traditional paths who can aid and share their perspectives on succeeding in law school. Wawa said, “T-Bar will ensure high school students can aspire to and successfully chart a career path as an attorney,” and the program will be hosted at the six HBCU law schools and work alongside Upward Bound.
Wawa called it “an honor to have my passion of creating a pathway for the next generation demonstrated to the LexisNexis audience with my fellowship proposal. I am even more committed in my long-term goals of continuing the fight to end systemic racism by increasing representation and diversity in the legal field.”
Acting Dean Twinette Johnson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Matthew Fraidin and Director of Development Adeshola Akintobi attended the event at the Conrad. Meanwhile, students, staff and faculty joined a viewing party at the law school to watch the stream and support Bastfield, McNeal and Wawa.
“I was filled with a sense of pride and support when I stepped up to the podium and saw [Dean Johnson, Dean Fraidin and Director Akintobi] in the crowd,” McNeal said. “Further, during a break in the programming, we learned that the UDC Law community hosted a live watch party at the school – complete with popcorn and pizza – so that our entire law school could participate. The unmatched support and thoughtfulness extended to us during this monumental occasion is one of the many reasons UDC Law is so special. I extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude to you all.”
Bastfield spoke fondly of the experience as a Rule of Law fellow and encouraged other students to seek the opportunity. “I recommend any HBCU law student to apply for this fellowship if they are looking for an entity to challenge their thinking, mold them and expose them to different areas of the LexisNexis network.”