Case Western Reserve Law School Names First Dean for Diversity

Health Disparities Scholar Ruqaiijah A. Yearby Starts New Role This Month

News Release: Friday, January 15, 2016

Case Western Reserve University School of Law’s first tenured female African-American professor has been named as the school’s inaugural Associate Dean of Institutional Diversity and Inclusiveness. Ruqaiijah A. Yearby, who joined the faculty in 2011, begins her administrative position this month.

“Professor Yearby’s knowledge, experience and commitment to helping others make her uniquely suited to take on this new role,” Deans Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf said. “Case Western Reserve has a long and proud history of commitment to diversity, and we expect to build on that progress with this appointment.”

Before becoming dean, Scharf emphasized the importance of recruiting a more diverse faculty during his leadership of the school’s appointments committee. In addition to Yearby’s appointment, 2011 also saw the arrival of Juscelino Colares, the school’s first tenured Latino professor. As deans, Berg and Scharf made increasing minority student enrollment a key priority; 20 percent of this year’s entering students are from underrepresented groups. The school today is also nationally recognized for its commitment to public interest law.

“We know the law school can be doing so much more,” the deans said. “We think this [appointment] will make for a better educational and scholarly climate, enhance admissions recruitment and provide opportunities to engage more alumni.”

These activities reflect a commitment to inclusion that dates back to the school’s first entering class 123 years ago, whose numbers included an African-American student. Before becoming renowned nationally as a civil rights attorney, Fred Gray came to Cleveland to earn his law degree at Case Western Reserve. It was the early 1950s, and Alabama’s law schools did not accept African- Americans.

Case Western Reserve’s law school also has engaged in some of today’s most dominant issues involving race, including those involving the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police in cities such as Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and Cleveland. Last fall, for example, the school hosted a high-profile conference regarding police brutality. In the spring, Visiting Assistant Professor Ayesha Hardaway was named to the Independent Monitor Team for the federal consent decree aimed at addressing excessive use of force by Cleveland police. Meanwhile, faculty member Michael Benza has been one of the nation’s most widely quoted experts on the issue of police violence against minority citizens, including the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014.

A handful of law schools have administrative positions dedicated to diversity, but most also include responsibilities for student affairs or other aspects of the schools’ operations. Based on Professor Yearby’s work leading the law school’s diversity committee and engaging in related university-wide efforts, Deans Berg and Scharf believe that the law school will benefit more by allowing Yearby to focus exclusively on diversity and inclusiveness, an area of proven passion and expertise.

“As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be,’,” Associate Dean Yearby explained. “Thus, throughout my life I have worked to improve the lives of others.”

During her undergraduate days at the University of Michigan, for example, Yearby founded and led “United Brothers and Sisters,” a student organization dedicating to bringing together students from different cultures, religions and lifestyles through diversity-related programming.

An honors biology major, Yearby discovered what would become the focus of her legal scholarship during a National Science Foundation-supported research trip to South Africa two decades ago. As she observed sharp differences in access to health care firsthand, she began to recognize that solutions could not come solely from medical professionals—no matter how well meaning.

“It showed me that there will always be disparities unless the laws and structures of society mandate equality,” she said.

After graduating from Michigan, Yearby went on to earn a Master’s in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University. In 2003, she became the first African-American woman hired to a tenure-track position at the Loyola Chicago School of Law; five years later, she joined the University of Buffalo as an associate professor in both its law school and school of public health and health professions.

Professor Yearby’s scholarship focuses on racial disparities in health care and law, justice and medical research. Two years ago Yearby organized a national symposium at the law school, "Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Putting an End to Separate and Unequal Health Care in the United States 50 Years After the Civil Rights Act of 1964.’’ This past September, she presented her research regarding the unjust inclusion of children in medical research to the Oxford Global Health and Bioethics International Conference; later in the fall, she also presented her research regarding the continuation of racial disparities in health care at Duke University School of Law.

Yearby is the second university faculty member to assume a school-based administrative post dedicated to diversity. In 2012, the School of Medicine named Professor Sana Loue as its first Vice Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity; Yearby has served on the school’s advisory committee for faculty development and diversity since 2014.

“We want to ensure that our school is as welcoming as possible to all,” Deans Berg and Scharf said. “Professor Yearby has played an important part in these efforts to date, and we look forward to collaborating with her in this new role.”

Posted by: Marvin Kropko, January 15, 2016 06:08 PM | News Topics: Official Release