Yesterday, it was my great honor to present Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, my former clinical instructor, with the Shatter the Ceiling Award for Excellence in Integrating Critical Race Theory into the Curriculum. The annual award, given by Students for Inclusion and the Shattered Ceiling Committee of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, is based on feedback from a student survey. Below are the comments I prepared for the ceremony, followed by the complete list of faculty honorees:

“The first time I thought ‘there may actually be a place for students like me here’ was during my 2L year in the International Human Rights Clinic.  Deborah and Tyler’s human rights seminar was intellectually engaging in ways I had never experienced at HLS and I was sure none of my other classes could compare. But my developing clinical education with Fernando was not just comparable; it was the ultimate practical supplement.

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award.
Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award. Photo credit: Anna Joseph, JD ’16

Team meetings were my oasis amid an exorbitant education generally void of critical analysis. Our clinical project – using human rights law to advocate for a moratorium on private prison expansion in Brazil – facilitated an evolution of my social and legal imagination. As expected, we learned international case law and how to compose persuasive legal arguments.  More importantly, Fernando encouraged us to embrace our curiosity and creativity as we investigated the laws’ capacity to maintain or dismantle oppressive regimes.

Fernando takes a similar approach to his teaching in the classroom, as illustrated by the following quote from a current student:

‘The central premise of critical race theory in the legal context is how the law is used as a tool in maintaining white supremacy and how we can transform the relationship between the law and racial power. In our institution, we see a curriculum that fails to view the law through this lens with almost no emphasis on critical race theory. But its central premise is taken up by Fernando in his Human Rights and Criminal Justice class. Fernando examines how the prison industrial complex, from Brazil to Baltimore, is used as a tool to oppress communities of color and encourages his students to think critically about how the law is used to disenfranchise minority communities.  His students appreciate his carefully curated readings, which aside from breaking with Harvard Law tradition in being short, collect voices which are typically not heard within our school, including works by Angela Davis on prisons, Michelle Alexander on mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow, and Makau Matua on how our system of international human rights preserves an international legal order of white colonialism.

Fernando is a living example and inspiration of how we can use our power as human rights advocates to elevate the voices of marginalized causes and groups and to never forget that this is not about us but about liberation. For so many of us disillusioned by humanity, Fernando’s class is a sanctuary in which we as imperfect advocates can fight for racial justice in a system where we don’t even know what that means or looks like.’

I thought Fernando was one of the best-kept secrets at HLS, but this award demonstrates that it was foolish to think that I alone recognized his magic.  If anything, I am now discovering the significant community of students he has inspired and transformed throughout the years.

Fernando, I am so very honored to present you with this award. Without that formative semester in the Clinic and in your seminar, I would never have been able to envision a better legal system, nor a better Harvard Law School.  So I thank you deeply – more than I can adequately articulate – for modeling the type of human rights advocate that I, and so many others in this room, aspire to be. “

Below are the other Shatter the Ceiling faculty honorees, along with student quotes about their excellence:

The Shattered Ceiling faculty honorees, together with the students who introduced them
Some of the Shattered Ceiling faculty honorees, together with the students who introduced them. Photo credit: Anna Joseph, JD ’16

Visiting Professor Aziz Rana: Award for Excellence in Advancing Racial Equality in the Classroom (introduced by Marium Khawaja)

“I told him I’m terrified of speaking in class and am having a problem with the conversation in general. He offered to speak with me about the material before or after class if that would help. He also followed up on that with an email.”

“Extensive knowledge and scholarship on issues that affect students in activism, of different backgrounds, and of the role of neoliberalism as a part of these issues. He’s just an infinite resource for the part of me that is interested in sustained, informed activism.”

Prof. Jon Hanson (the Systemic Justice Project): Award for Excellence in Integrating Social Justice into the Curriculum (introduced by Rena Karefa-Johnson)

“He once made a joke that a student took to be insensitive. When she told him, he didn’t just apologize. He took a whole class schedule to talk and have people share their thoughts on diversity, sexual assault, etc. It was such an emotional class: people cried, we bonded, and were a stronger section for it.”

Visiting Professor Rebecca Tushnet (intellectual property): Award for Excellence in Advancing Gender Equality in the Classroom (introduced by Kendra Albert)

“We actually talked about trademarks as a means for marginalized groups to reclaim formerly stigmatized words (like the trademark “Dykes on Bikes,” owned by an LGBT group), which was a really interesting and helpful discussion.”

Visiting Professor Ruth Okediji (patent law): Award for Excellence in Inclusive Mentorship (introduced by Annie Manhart)

“Professor Okediji provided a level of contextualization that I did not have in any of my other 1L classes. She is clearly an expert in her field, but also remembers the humanity of her clients and makes sure we incorporate that in our analysis of the cases that we read.”

Prof. Diane Rosenfeld (gender violence): Award for Excellence in Integrating Feminist Legal Theory into the Curriculum (introduced by Antuan Johnson)

“She often addresses how the material we cover relates to intersectional identities, particularly women of color, trans-women, women of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and non-binary individuals.”