February 2021 Dean’s Corner: UCI Law’s Public Service Mission in Action

by L. Song Richardson

I don’t think we will ever forget 2020. The global pandemic has impacted the entire world and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) is no different. In just a matter of days last March, our faculty transitioned to remote teaching and our students to remote learning. Our staff and administrators began operating the law school from their homes. Yet, despite our physical separation, the care and concern UCI Law faculty, staff, and students have shown for each other and for the broader community persevered.

Even at a time when our students are contending with their own personal challenges and hardships, they have remained committed to serving others. I continue to see remarkable acts of kindness that demonstrate the strength of our culture at UCI Law. Here are just a few examples of what our remarkable students are doing upon their own initiative or through law school clinics and community relationships.

Olivia Meme, a 2020 graduate of UCI Law, launched Orange County Grocery & Supply Delivery—a grocery drop-off service for people who could no longer shop safely themselves. Within days, she received more than $1,000 in donations to subsidize groceries for people who were struggling, and more than seventy people volunteered to help.

Jamison Whiting, a 3L at UCI Law, raised more than $14,000 to help small businesses and community members in Minneapolis, Minnesota following the death of George Floyd. Whiting grew up three blocks from where Floyd was killed. Wanting to get involved to help his community in the aftermath of Floyd’s tragic death and the protests that followed, Whiting collected donations to help with clean-up efforts and to purchase food and other supplies for those in need.

 From my perspective, Floyd’s death sparked a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice and anti-blackness. Perhaps the global pandemic created the circumstances that forced people to listen, to really listen, and to confront the inequities that continue to plague our country. For many of us, including me, anti-Blackness and racism (in whatever form it might take) impact our daily lives—our interactions, our actions, and how others treat us. I find hope and I am heartened, however, by the fact that so many people who have never spoken out against or recognized racism in whatever form it might take—explicit, implicit, institutional, structural, systemic—or who have never stood with or supported people affected by racism every day, are doing so now, both on and off campus.

In these challenging and uncertain times, our legal clinics continue to serve the most vulnerable communities. As COVID-19 erupted in prisons, our Criminal Justice Clinic worked hard to obtain compassionate releases for medically vulnerable prisoners. One of their successful cases was for David Stringer, a seventy-four-year-old veteran. Our Immigrant Rights Clinic and students working on the Border X pro bono project successfully helped with humanitarian parole requests to remove individuals from immigration detention centers where they were more susceptible to COVID-19.

In March, students engaged in a remote legal clinic to help transgender individuals request name and gender marker changes. Students have also supported other legal services organizations by delivering documents to seniors and medically compromised individuals who were unable to leave their homes to sign documents or pick up important legal papers.

And, of course, UCI Law’s Election Conference and Report played a crucial role in averting an election crisis. Who could have imagined that the last major event we held in-person at UCI Law would turn out to be so influential? The Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy, convened by Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at UCI Law, Rick Hasen, made fourteen recommendations to increase voter confidence in the fairness and legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

We weren’t prepared for the way 2020 shaped up. But, true to the UCI Law way, we responded to these challenges by showing courage, grit, and perseverance, and by remaining committed to our public service mission. Unsurprisingly, we have emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. We look forward to 2021 and all the remarkable things that UCI Law staff, students, and faculty will continue to accomplish.

On a final note, this will be my last Dean’s Corner. I will be leaving UCI Law at the end of this academic year to become the 14th President of Colorado College, a small private liberal arts college located in Colorado Springs. My departure is bittersweet for me because I love UCI Law and will miss the broader OC community who have supported me and the law school since we opened our doors eleven years ago. We have achieved remarkable things together and I have made lasting friendships. Despite my departure, this is not goodbye. I intend to stay in close touch and hope that we will find many ways to continue to collaborate in the future. I wish everyone a joyous, healthy, and impactful 2021!


L. Song Richardson is Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law. She can be reached at srichardson@law.uci.edu.