Hope as a Discipline

We are excited to gather in person for the first time in four years, to connect with clinical colleagues and friends on a deeper level than has been possible for a very long time. The conference will provide us the opportunity to share new ideas, meet new colleagues, and reflect on what is important to our professional and personal lives.  

While we have been away from each other, we have witnessed continued rising authoritarianism, popular nationalism,deepening inequities, and retrenchments of rights, around the world and in the United States. Our students, colleagues, neighbors, and we ourselves question the ability of established institutions to protect democracy, ensure the survival of the planet, and secure human and civil rights for all people. It is a frightening time for many, and one that may, at moments, engender fear and despair in even the most optimistic among us. Working with students in clinics and externships to assist underserved populations resolve their legal problems, we have always been aware of the ways in which law is socially constructed to create racial inequality and various forms of subordination. Many of our students represent clients from Black and Brown communities whose lives have been made worse by enforcement of specious laws. Post-pandemic, and under these recent threats to democracy, this inequality and subordination is even more apparent.  

Despite these challenges, this conference is focused on hope and action rather than fear and despair. How can we use this moment as an opportunity to move our world forward in a transformative way? Inspired by the work of activist, educator, and abolitionist Mariame Kaba,  the theme for this year’s conference is “Hope as a Discipline.” For generations, the work of abolitionists like Kaba – from Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois to Angela Davis and Derecka Purnell – teaches us that current times counsel against despair, and in favor of hope and radical action, both in the carceral context and in all other areas of our social and racial justice work. Using abolition as a frame for our work requires holding two visions at once. It requires a vision, first, of tearing down instruments of control. But abolition also requires, in the words of historian Robin D.G. Kelley, radically imagining what might be built instead. Lawyering with an eye toward this second vision can guide us to help create a world in which all people experience a clean environment, safe housing, food security, quality healthcare, meaningful education, and a living wage, and are not subject to family violence, unjust fines and fees, or imprisonment. These are goals our various clinics and externship placement organizations pursue on behalf of clients now. And the times, we suggest, require us not only to deepen our commitment to these pursuits, but to be more radical and hopeful in our vision of what is possible through our students’ and our own work.

As clinical faculty we understand the limits of the law and take seriously our obligation to train the next generation of lawyers differently. We can teach our students how to use the discipline of hope to change the institution of law in radical and innovative ways, bridge the gaps between the streets, organizers, and law schools, and turn the injustice and outrage that exist today into fuel for the engine of progress. We can teach students how to develop this discipline in themselves and others, to create a more equitable, sustainable and humane world.

Please consider incorporating this aspiration to create and support hope as discipline when designing your proposals. We recognize that developing and maintaining this discipline may lead you to focus your proposal on one or more of these subthemes, as well as the overarching theme:

  • fostering community;
  •  engaging in effective collaboration;
  •  excellent teaching of foundational and new lawyering skills;
  •  professional development; and/or
  •  promoting wellness.

We also encourage you to consider using art, music, or other creative forms in your presentation if appropriate to your teaching goals.