Newly renamed, the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging hosts a discussion of the hard work of fostering greater understanding

NYU Law celebrated the newly renamed Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, formerly known as the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, at an event on October 17 that featured a conversation between Melissa Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, and Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law Kenji Yoshino, the center’s faculty director.

View photos from the event:

The center was renamed to honor Roger Meltzer ’77, an NYU Law trustee and chairman emeritus of DLA Piper. A strong advocate of the center’s work, Meltzer has made a major gift to the center with his wife, Robin Meltzer. Meltzer’s professional and personal associates have provided additional support. DLA Piper had previously partnered with the center to help advance diversity and inclusion through firm-wide diversity workshops.

Welcoming the crowd assembled in Greenberg Lounge, Dean Troy McKenzie ’00 highlighted NYU Law’s history of pursuing diversity and inclusion and the center’s work to effect change beyond the Law School’s walls. “The Meltzer Center’s mission aims to foster a sense of belonging in our institutions and societies for people of all backgrounds, and supports our goals here at NYU,” said McKenzie. “Those goals are to strive not only to live up to the values that the center represents but also to share this expertise with external institutions within the profession and beyond.”

“[Yoshino’s and the center’s work] is intellectually uncompromising [and] grounded in social scientific research,” Meltzer said to the gathering. “The center focuses on building frameworks that get well beyond a zero-sum game while taking a more constructive approach to engage a broader range of people to include, and ultimately find a place to belong.”

In a sweeping and candid discussion, Harris-Perry and Yoshino talked about the challenges of working in the area of diversity and inclusion. When Harris-Perry asked Yoshino whether his faith in the power of conversation to create change had been shaken in recent years, Yoshino said his faith in people’s capacity for dialogue may have been rattled, but not his belief in the power of such exchanges to go to places the law cannot reach.

Harris-Perry wondered about instances when dialogue might be difficult or virtually impossible. Yoshino invoked concepts covered in Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice, a forthcoming book he co-authored with David Glasgow LLM ’14, the Meltzer Center’s executive director. “There’s nothing in this book that says you have to have a conversation or you can’t walk away from a conversation,” Yoshino explained. “All that said…if they have some willingness to learn, we actually say that it’s particularly important…to be an ally not just to the affected people who have been harmed, but also to the sources of non-inclusive behavior…. Someday that will be you. We do not have the privilege of sitting in the allyship chair at all times. This is a game of musical chairs.”

The two also touched on the contentious topic of safe spaces. While emphasizing that a classroom should offer students security from physical, emotional, or spiritual harms, Perry said, “I don’t want my classroom in particular to be safe for your brain.” She added, “Every time I’ve made hasn’t been in a safe space. It was somebody being like, ‘No! Do better,’ ‘Push yourself,’ or ‘Read this.’”

Yoshino questioned the framing of safe spaces. “If I were to aspire to something,” he said, “I would aspire to resilient spaces, spaces in which we can be resilient and other people support our own resilience…. I don’t want my students to be in distress…but I do want them to challenge themselves and to be uncomfortable and to ask themselves not so much ‘Why am I so uncomfortable in this classroom?’ but rather ‘Why have I been so comfortable until now?’”

Watch the video of the event:

Posted November 21, 2022