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Lolita Buckner Inniss Is The First Black Dean Of The University Of Colorado Law School

Lolita Buckner Inniss Is The First Black Dean Of The University Of Colorado Law School

She’s making sure her practice is all inclusive!

The University of Colorado Law School’s first Black dean is speaking about the importance of the legal system, representation and critical thinking, CPR News reports. 

Lolita Buckner Inniss recently moved to Denver, Colorado for a new position as Dean of Law at CU Boulder, making her the school’s first African American dean and second woman dean to lead the school. The Los Angeles native has family roots that traces back to Denver, her great-great grandfather serving at Appomattox as a member of the 116th Colored Infantry during the Civil War. When the war was over, he started a life in Denver, where her family would stay “for the next half-century or so.”

Growing up, Inniss didn't see people in her community pursuing legal career paths as attorneys or judges. In fact she shared: "The first time I actually knew and had any sort of relationship with an attorney was when I got to law school at UCLA. They were not in my family. They were not in my community. And so I had a lot to learn."

Inniss went on to make a name for herself, serving in a number of capacities as a legal scholar, professor and expert in property law, legal history, legal geography, feminist theory and critical race theory. She is also the author of the book “The Princeton Fugitive Slave: The Trials of James Collins Johnson,” which she published in 2019. 

She explains in detail why law must be inclusive and flexible, allowing ideals like critical race theory, feminist legal theory and even global pandemics like COVID-19 to help shape the law in a way that best serves the people. 

Her advocacy for critical race theory in the law boils down to a very basic concept, critical thinking. 

“We’re really asking people to loosen their embrace on the idea of universal norms. That doesn’t mean that the things that we’ve been declaring as truths for a millennia aren’t true or aren’t accurate, or aren’t useful approaches. It means that we’re now going to question them,” explained Inniss. 

She uses the example of the use of guilty or not guilty within the criminal justice system, saying the the system exists in a binary and that if it was truly critically analyzed, “we would ask ourselves, does it make sense to structure a justice system with this really rather rigid binary that doesn’t necessarily explain what goes on?”

The same goes for feminist legal theory in Inniss’ opinion, which takes into account how the law and legal system and how it applies to women. 

“Feminist legal theory asks us to think, if at all, are women participating, or I might also say not participating, in these processes?,” Inniss said. 

The law professor also took into account the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the law, creating more accessibility where there was none before. 

“The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some courts and other tribunals to open up to remote hearings. I think that’s tremendous. And I think some of that stuff is not going to go away for the simple fact that if we can admit more people into these processes, if we can get through them more quickly, then we are actually doing justice,” said Inniss. 

For her, it's important to account for all of these things, something she emphasizes in her work at the Colorado School of Law. In order to diversify law, Inniss believes we must first demystify it and make it more normalized for people to feel as though they have access to it. 

“This is the thing. When we think of law, we think of law with a capital L. But law is what happens on the playground. Law is when six kids see a stray ball and one of them says, ‘Hey, I see a ball.’ And the second one says, ‘I’ll bet I can get it first.’ And he runs fast and he gets it. And you know what? Oddly enough, that’s the state of the Common Law about who would get the ball as well! I mean, we’re doing law all the time...Pipelining has to do with having those conversations. It’s about reminding people of what law is, so that it’s not so remote from them,” Inniss said. 

Thank you for all the work you do, Dean Inniss! 

Photo Courtesy of Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

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