This note from our dean, Gordon Smith, to the BYU Law School Community, is reprinted with permission, and our gratitude.
Dear Law School Community,
Each time I enter our law building, I see an art exhibit captioned “Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere.” The exhibit features stunning portraits of people from Ecuador, France, Mongolia, Niger, and Pakistan by renowned photographer Steve McCurry. The title of the exhibit alludes to the Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere, which has been promoted by the Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to remember, reaffirm, and recommit to the notion that “equal human dignity of everyone everywhere is the foundational principle of human rights and reminds us that every person is of value and is worthy of respect.”
Human dignity resonates deeply within my faith tradition, which teaches me to “remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10) Embracing this truth, I cannot observe the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others without feeling the chasm between my ideals and my reality. Unfortunately, this dissonance is a steady companion. These latest events occur against the backdrop of a pandemic that is having a disproportionate effect on communities of color and a much longer history of racism that remains a source of pain and injustice in our society.
Many members of our community are hurting right now, and all of us should be “willing to mourn with those that mourn … and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:9) But we need to do more. In response to these recent events, I have seen varied calls for action, and I encourage you to combat racism in whatever way you feel called to act. As for me, I am striving to ensure that BYU Law School will be a place where racism is never ignored, but directly, consistently, and explicitly opposed. I will be working with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Law School to study and listen so that we can acknowledge the problem and recognize our role in perpetuating the problem. We will invest in change until we have a law school that respects and values people of all races and ethnicities and makes a deliberate effort to ensure that these differences are not just tolerated but actively welcomed.
As we use our legal training to make the world better, we recognize that understanding legal policies and crafting meaningful regulations can be complex. But the starting point for our work is simple: every person is of value and is worthy of respect. I am convinced that the only path forward is to develop and support leaders who seek to heal the wounds of racism. I am grateful to be engaged in this work, which is central to the pursuit of justice and the mission of the Law School.
With love and respect,
Dean Gordon Smith