By Andrew Cohen
The problems stemming from institutionalized racism often seem multi-layered, far-reaching, and hard to contextualize — let alone solve. But the Structural Racism Remedies Project, a collaborative effort steered by UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, provides a new repository of policy-based recommendations for advancing racial equity.
Drawing from a vast array of published material, Berkeley Law student Nahlee Lin ’22 — a research assistant with Professor and Institute Director john a. powell — played a key role in pushing the project forward.
“Nahlee is one of the chief contributors,” says Stephen Menendian, the Institute’s assistant director and director of research. “She tracked down numerous recommendations contained in books, journal articles, and other sources that were made by reviewers, as well as those directed by myself. Nahlee has done a phenomenal job helping review the source materials and inputting the recommendations, and she’s also the chief person currently responsible for updating it now that it’s live.”
The project reviewed 25 scholarly books, 27 reports, several web-based organizational policy platforms, and virtually the entire range of material of 2020 presidential campaigns in connection with racial equity. The new repository will be continually updated.
Materials reviewed and included feature eight policies prominently emphasized in the source materials: Police reform and the use of force, homeownership subsidies, rental assistance, baby bonds and other wealth-building tools, strengthening community-based and Black-owned financial institutions, universal pre-K, ending zero-tolerance school disciplinary policies and other pushout measures, and forgiving student debt.
Additional policy areas discussed are reparations, vocational job training and community college, a national popular vote and other measures to strengthen voting rights, and bail reform.
“I was interested in contributing to the Structural Racism Remedies Project because I believed this repository could be a useful resource for a wide range of groups, such as policymakers and community organizations, who are working towards racial justice,” Lin says. “I think the repository consolidates expert policy recommendations in a way that is accessible and that can minimize ‘reinventing the wheel.’”
Clearing the hurdles
Lin and other researchers identified major reform challenges to addressing systemic and structural racism. They include limited budgets, ideological and political opposition to the goals of racial equity or specific proposals, legal and constitutional limitations on explicitly including race in policymaking, and resistance to policy implementation that undermines policy intentions.
When Lin attended Berkeley Law’s Admitted Students Weekend in March 2019, she met Sana Mayat (then a 2L) through the Womxn of Color Collective. Mayat was a research assistant for powell at the time, told Lin about the Institute’s work on issues, and inspired her to pursue the same position.
“It’s very rewarding being exposed to the wide breadth of topics that Professor powell and the Institute engage in, from housing justice to health equity to climate justice,” Lin says. “It has reinforced my belief that legal thinking and legal strategies can be quite limited, and that lawyers working toward social justice must engage in more interdisciplinary thinking and follow the leadership of those most impacted by injustice.”
The repository was initially built for internal research purposes, to track how different organizations and scholarship were advising policymakers to respond to structural and systemic racism. But during its construction, Menendian saw “how valuable such a resource might be if made public-facing.
“The challenge was to figure out how to present the recommendations,” he says. “Getting them organized onto the website was far from simple, and required a lot of planning and work.”
Meaningful change can emanate from many forms — the courts, the broader public, policy reform — which Lin sees as validation for a collaborative approach like the one that propelled this new repository. In her future public interest legal career, she says, “I hope to serve and advocate for low-income communities of color using creative and interdisciplinary movement lawyering strategies.”
As law students plan legal careers, Menendian urges them to think about the best ways they can make a difference on racial justice and equity issues in alignment with their values.
“My hope is that this repository can help people realize just how much can be done to address the problem of structural racism, if we have the political will to adopt and implement at least some of these recommendations,” he says. “I also hope people will see how diverse the recommendations are, and how different scholars and organizations can make very different recommendations addressed to the same problem … and how some of them are framed in universalistic terms while others are very race-specific.”