Letter to the Editor: Leslie Burnett Locke

To the Seattle University School of Law community,    

On February 9th, I resigned from my position of Student Bar Association (SBA) Vice President. It was an incredibly hard decision to make, but one I felt necessary—both for my own mental health and because I could no longer tolerate the ongoing actions of the school administration. 

SBA bylaws require that resignations like mine be communicated promptly to the student body, and I provided the below letter to use as my resignation notice. However, I encountered resistance—some members of the SBA and the administration shared a concern that my letter would diminish trust in SU and the SBA. We could not reach an agreement about edits to the content of my letter on the timeline SU’s administration desired. I then provided an edited-down version of my words and asked that a disclaimer be included, identifying that the administration required me to edit the letter before it was sent. The administration sent out the edited letter and refused to include a disclaimer.  

I believed, and still believe, that trust comes from honestly confronting challenges. I am sharing my full original letter here because my personal values of transparency and fairness demand that I honor the trust placed in me by the student body to be honest.  

To the Seattle University School of Law student body, 

I am resigning from my position as Vice President of the Student Bar Association. For the sake of my mental health, and due to the ongoing actions of our school administration, I can no longer continue in this role.  

This was a difficult decision for me to come to. I know that my presence on the SBA Executive Board and in meetings with the Deans has had an impact, and my resignation means there is one less voice of color in the room to advocate for important issues. But in this role, I have faced a staggering amount of sexism and racism. Not only from our school’s administration but also from other council members. And too often, I received little to no support from leadership despite my explicit asks. Representation is important—but we must be honest that our current systems are not set up to support or welcome people of color, let alone womxn of color. If we want a truly inclusive and equitable way of being, it’s not enough to place people of color in systems designed to exclude and harm them. Therefore, we must commit to different ways of being.  

I took on this role last fall with a clear goal in mind: to advocate for the health and well-being of our student community. It has become increasingly clear to me that this goal is not shared by everyone in our school’s administration. The administration positions Seattle U as a social justice-oriented law school, but to practice this requires actions, not just statements. The law is not and has never been objective. The legal system is grounded in white supremacy and was designed to keep people of color oppressed. To truly practice social justice within the law requires accepting this and radically re-imagining our current legal framework. 

I have repeatedly seen our school’s leadership choose power and the status quo over equity and justice. Regarding the recent article in The Spectator, I acknowledge that the school says they have investigated two of the claims raised, but there were many more allegations that deserve a response. These claims were reported to the school throughout the fall semester, and yet, it took until an article was published for them to seriously investigate it. This, along with many of the details in the article, shows how the school is more concerned with their image than the harms perpetuated on their own students. Creating the change required to support and center our diverse students will always be uncomfortable, but that’s how we’ll know we’re doing right by those who’ve been systematically oppressed.  

To the SBA council, I thank you for your efforts throughout this year. I understand there were disagreements with some of my decisions, and I recognize that I have made mistakes. I am grateful for the many people who supported me and gave me feedback to help me grow. I encourage all SBA members, both current and future, to constantly re-evaluate your position’s relationship to power, and who you are centering in this work. I believe the SBA exists to center, advocate for, and represent students. I hope that work will continue despite what people in power may think. 

Moving forward, I will prioritize my mental health. Like many, this year has been filled with challenges, within the school and outside. I have harm, trauma, and grief to process and hopefully heal from. I am still committed to my vision—a legal community that serves every person and replaces systems of power and oppression with true justice. As President of the Womxn of Color Coalition, I will continue to work to create spaces where diverse students can feel safe. Law school is a dehumanizing experience, and I have seen no indication the administration is interested in changing this. So, we must work to make change where we can.

If you are in a position of power, you must reflect on how you are upholding institutions of white supremacy. We need to transform how we operate in, engage with, and think about the law—and change is never comfortable. To embody the “Heart of Law,” we must each look inwards, and ask ourselves how we are fighting for a more equitable legal system.  

It has been an honor to serve you. Power cedes nothing without a demand. I demand change. 

In solidarity, 

Leslie Burnett Locke