University of St. Thomas law school Dean Robert Vischer is an inaugural recipient of the Minnesota Lawyer Diversity and Inclusion Award, which recognizes his contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law.

During his four-year tenure as dean, Vischer has been dedicated to creating a law school community that is diverse, inclusive, supportive and honest about issues surrounding diversity. He has provided critical leadership in training and education on implicit bias during orientation, classes and clinics; cross-cultural competency sessions for first-year students; a new litigation course with a focus on matters involving police misconduct; public and private events on public safety, racial justice, diversity and inclusion; listening sessions and conversations between faculty and students regarding ideas for discussing race and related issues in their courses; and book discussion groups team-led by faculty and students focusing on empathy and race, to name a few.

As an advocate for his faculty and students, Vischer has never shied away from the controversy that comes his way, consistently and publicly advocating for the rights of faculty and students to bring attention to racial disparities in the legal system, even when that has meant breaking the law. His use of social and traditional media to speak out connects his message to community members representing a variety of ages and beliefs.

As an influencer in the legal field, Vischer is particularly gifted at making his scholarship current and compelling, weaving his background as a scholar on the intersection of law, religion and public policy (his most recent book explored lessons in love and justice from Martin Luther King, Jr.) with current events. He has written about how Black Lives Matter Puts the Catholic Vision of Higher Education to the Test and Lawyers’ Unsung Role: When the High and Mighty Overreach, Count on Us.

More recently, Vischer has penned op-eds and signed onto letters that oppose budget cuts to civil legal aid programs (which, in his words, “have been a voice for the voiceless for decades, enabling those on society’s margins to stay in their homes, with their kids, and in their jobs”) and was selected to serve on the Legal Services Corporation Leaders Council, which seeks to raise public awareness of the current crisis surrounding accessibility of the civil justice system for low-income Americans.

His leadership in diversity and inclusion has had a certain impact on the St. Thomas Law community, but the true impact of his work will be carried out in the actions of the students and alumni who developed their professional identities under his example.

“I view this award as a recognition for the whole law school community’s efforts on this front, as many of the ideas we’ve implemented originated with faculty, staff and students,” Vischer said. “These conversations only find fertile ground to the extent that community members are willing to take risks and engage on difficult issues.”

Vischer is among 28 individuals and organizations recognized in 2017 for “laying the foundation of diversity and inclusion in the law that today’s practitioners are building upon,” according to Minnesota Lawyer. Also recognized are St. Thomas law school mentors Justice Paul H. Anderson, Judge Tanya M. Bransford and Judge Donovan Frank.

An awards ceremony is planned for Oct. 12 in Minneapolis.

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