Antioch School of Law Remembered as Engine of Change for Black Disenfranchised

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO [email protected]
/ (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman) /
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Crafted to meet the changing political and social landscape where centuries-old laws were being dismantled, the Antioch School of Law, later the University the D.C. Law School, and now the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC-DCSL), embraced the mantra “Challenge Authority” from its inception.

Panelists celebrating the legacy of The Antioch School of Law as a tool to discuss the power of challenging authority to secure rights for the District’s disenfranchised communities. / Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman
Panelists celebrating the legacy of The Antioch School of Law as a tool to discuss the power of challenging authority to secure rights for the District’s disenfranchised communities. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Established in 1972, with an open-admissions policy, the Antioch School of Law offered mostly low-income Black students an opportunity to obtain a quality post-secondary education, while advocating on behalf of their communities.

“Students were required to work or earn internships within the government so they would know how to function within the law, not just throw bricks at the system,” said Antioch School of Law Co-Dean and Co-Founder, Edgar Cahn at the forum. “We staffed the government during home rule and we held the trust of the most disenfranchised folks in the country to ensure that legally we would uphold their rights.”

Panelists for the forum included Sandra Mattavous-Frye,’83, Antioch graduate and current People’s Counsel in D.C., and Shelley Broderick, Dean, UDC-DCSL. Antioch alum, Jonathan Smith, ’84, Dean for Clinical and Experiential Programs, UDC-DCSL, served as panel moderator.

Antioch pioneered a comprehensive law clinic education model, which has been acknowledged by the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools as being an essential part of a complete legal education. It has since been incorporated into the curriculum of virtually every law school in the United States. The school reportedly required new students to spend their first two weeks of class living with families in the District’s worst neighborhoods to get a feel for the people they would represent.

Antioch graduate Joyce Batipps told the AFRO, the school was a place where social engagement and a desire to fix the parts of the government that were not working properly gained the legal know-how to change laws, disarm abusive elements, and protect poor communities from predatory behaviors. “Advocacy was not an option. There were people dying and being discriminated against all around us,” Batipps said, referring to the housing discrimination several low income residents faced if they were diagnosed with HIV. “We learned how to strategize and challenge or apply new interpretations of the law to fight on behalf of impoverished people because just knowing the law would not save Mrs. Jones’ home, but challenging certain laws and demanding others, would.

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