For The Record

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Richmond Law professors respond to current issues with courses exploring racism, sexual violence, and the intersection of criminal law and immigration law.

Turn on the news today, and you’re likely to hear stories involving racism, sexual assault, and immigration. Step into a classroom at Richmond Law, and you’ll probably hear conversations about the same.

Three new courses are digging into the legal landscape of topics currently dominating news cycles: Paul Crane’s Law and Sexual Violence; Crimmigration, developed by Erin Collins; and Kimberly Robinson’s Race and American Law.

Crane’s course explores criminal sex offenses and prosecution procedures; regulation of sex offenders and civil commitment laws; sexual harassment in the workplace; and Title IX sexual assault regimes on college campuses. Most of the time, he says, these subjects might get only a passing discussion in a broader course — say one day on sexual harassment in an employment law class. He aims to spend a month on each and show how the four areas interconnect.

“There’s an exciting newness to this, that maybe there’s a different way we can educate and talk about these issues with students and have them become better lawyers and better citizens for it,” Crane says. “But there isn’t a textbook. There aren’t other courses that I have been able to find.”

That lack of a model is part of the challenge in creating courses like these. They also require a nimbleness, an ability to respond to what happens in the hours before class begins.

Crane has been planning his Law and Sexual Violence course since early 2017. In that time, there have been crowds of pink hats, Harvey Weinstein, and the #MeToo movement.

Collins faced the same challenge while teaching Crimmigration, a course exploring the growing convergence of criminal and immigration law. Collins covers everything from the immigration consequences of criminal convictions to issues of border policy and sanctuary cities.

“A lot of our sessions would end with me saying, ‘And this issue is getting decided right now,’ or ‘Just to update you, last week this happened,’” Collins says.

Robinson’s Race and American Law course might be a standard at many law schools, but it’s also being shaped by the current climate. After covering a history of slavery and colonialism, Robinson challenges students to look for legal reforms that can eradicate modern forms of institutionalized racism, like changing the legal standards for what constitutes discriminatory policing.

“We’ve come a long way since segregation, and we’ll come a long way from where we are today if there are engaged reformers who work on these issues,” she says. “I challenge students to think, ‘You can make a difference on these issues, and here is the huge array of tools that you have to do that.’”

While equipping future lawyers with the tools to tackle complex issues is key to each new course, Collins, Crane, and Robinson also say they’ll be happy to see citizens who have a critical ear for news and can engage in meaningful and constructive conversations.

“We’re talking about things that a large segment of the American population is also talking about,” Crane says. “I hope that will make the class feel even more alive, important, and accessible.”