Renowned Civil Rights Attorney Speaks to Campus Community

By Hannah Fitzpatrick ’21, September 17, 2019
Kristen Clarke advocates for social change during annual Constitution Day lecture.

On September 10, Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law spoke at Ithaca College as part of the college’s annual Constitution Day lecture.

During her talk, Clarke discussed the rise of hate crimes in the U.S. in recent years, as well as how members of the college community can combat hateful language. She also highlighted the history of violence towards marginalized groups in America by talking about cases her organization is involved in.

The Lawyers’ Committee, based in Washington, D.C., aims to secure equal justice for all through law, particularly focusing on inequities confronting African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities.

In 2017, American University student Taylor Dumpson was targeted for her race by the neo-Nazi website “The Daily Stormer” after being elected student government president. Dumpson subsequently filed a lawsuit, and was represented by Clarke. She won the case, and Dumpson was awarded more than $700,000.

“To beat back hate, we also must confront the crises of online hate.”

Kristen Clarke

Clarke said that she hopes that case will serve as a precedent for future cases involving hate crimes, but there is still work to be done when it comes to online trolls that contribute to the problem of racial bigotry.

“We’re really proud of the result here and believe that this groundbreaking victory opens up new avenues for holding white supremacists accountable in other parts of the country,” she said. “But to beat back hate, we also must confront the crises of online hate. We’ve fought to shut down hate sites such as Stormfront and, that are essentially turbocharging white supremacy.”

Prior to her work at the Lawyer’s Committee, Clarke served as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she led broad civil rights enforcement on matters including criminal justice issues, education and housing discrimination, fair lending, barriers to reentry, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, gender inequality, disability rights, reproductive access and LGBT issues. She also worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division.

“I’m glad that we’re in a place where we can hold these conversations freely because they’re so timely. If not now, then when?”

Pranietha Mudliar, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences

While answering questions from the audience following her lecture, Clarke urged the college community to stand up for others and speak out against any form of hate.

“Don’t wait for any incident to happen - and hopefully nothing ever will,” she said. “But now is the time to be proactive and put out reaffirming messages that show that you all have respect for all of your fellow students, regardless of the differences that may stand between you.”

Clarke’s strong messaging stood out to attendees. Carlos Abreu ’19 said the lecture gave him a new perspective on a sensitive topic that he previously did not know much about.

“I always knew that hate speech and hate crime was a thing, but I never knew that it had such a huge impact in other people’s lives,” Abreu said. “It was good to learn about it at a deeper level because it allowed me to understand what exactly is going on and what I could do to change this.”

Pranietha Mudliar, assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences,  was grateful that the college hosted this lecture because it shows the college’s emphasis on equality for all, and the urgency in which the topic at hand should be treated.

“I’m glad that we’re in a place where we can hold these conversations freely because they’re so timely. If not now, then when?” Mudliar said.