Dean’s Diversity Forum Looks at Access to Justice and the Demography of Central Pennsylvania
Web Editor - Published: March 27, 2012
“This is the 6th time that we’ve gathered as an institution and a community to critique our progress as a commonwealth and as a country on the issues of diversity,” said Associate Provost and Dean Linda L. Ammons in her opening remarks at the 2012 Dean’s Diversity Forum held on Friday, March 23rd, 2012 on Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus.

“We are in this place to be reminded of our duty to gather strength and courage for this journey, and to share, and to create innovative ways to tackle this task,” remarked Dean Ammons before adding, “I’m particularly proud of the fact that the Widener University School of Law is leading the way nationally – is a beacon on the hill in commitment to diversity.”

Following the Dean’s remarks, Janis Leftridge, the Diversity Officer for the Pennsylvania Bar Association, moderated the first panel of the day, Access to Justice and Building the More Perfect Union in a Culturally Diverse Community. The panel featured Scott Casper, the Director of Demographics for the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; The Honorable Ida Chen of the Common Pleas Court of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County; and the Honorable Nathaniel C. Nichols of the Common Pleas Court of Pennsylvania, Delaware County.

Mr. Casper spoke first and discussed the growth of minority population numbers in Lancaster, York, and Dauphin counties from 1970 on. The informative talk included a look at demographic maps that illustrated those population shifts vividly.

Judge Chen offered an engaging and lively view of how cultural differences and language barriers can impact the legal process. She also touched on how a discussion with Dean Ammons at a reception helped lead to the creation of the Court Interpreter Program at Widener Law’s Legal Education Institute. “I made a lot of mistakes,” Judge Chen said, “but one of the smartest decisions I ever made was to go to a reception that Judge Panepinto, a Widener graduate, threw for Dean Ammons.”

Judge Nichols, a former professor on Widener Law’s Delaware campus, spoke about how important it is to examine implicit assumptions in order to have a meaningful dialogue about diversity issues. He shared how surprised he was at his own results when taking the Implicit Association Test, which he encouraged everyone in the audience to try (available at The talk also looked at different theories of learning and how an understanding of them could better assist in teaching and learning diversity in the affective domain, which encompasses values, motivations, and attitudes.

Before the second panel, the audience heard videotaped remarks from former Pennsylvania Secretary of State and current Executive Vice President of Everyone Counts Pedro A. Cortés, who called the forum “Timely because the undeniable fact is that our country is growing, and it’s growing fast.”

Jacqueline Jackson-DeGarcia of JJ Law Office LLC moderated the second panel, which was titled District Lines, the Promise of Representative Democracy, and the Culturally Diverse Community.

Speaking first, William Sloane of Shagin Law Group and formerly the Democratic Chief Counsel to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives noted, “If this was a democracy, we wouldn’t have to have the second part of this meeting,” before offering a full accounting of the importance held by the process of drawing district lines to allow for the representative election of government officials.

Dr. David Sosar, an Associate Professor of Political Science at King’s College discussed the increase in the Hispanic population in both the nation and Pennsylvania and how those voters have the ability to swing elections. “We’ve got to begin to understand some of the cultural differences that people bring to us,” he declared.

The final speaker, Jason Rathod of Mason LLP spoke about the potential disadvantages of majority-minority voting districts, arguing that more diverse and ethnically mixed districts would be preferable. He observed that too often elections in majority-minority districts seem to become about racial authenticity rather than issues, and he concluded that less homogeneous districts might help “Transition us to a society that is less fixated on race.”

In brief concluding remarks, Dean Ammons said to the law students in the audience, “This is really for you. This will become the world that you are inheriting,” before adding, “The idea is that diversity is not something that is an add-on. It is essential to life.”