The Delaware Student Bar Association sponsored two Pizza with the Professors events to open Diversity Week on Monday, March 18th.
Professor John F. Nivala
spoke about how racial identity impacts eyewitness identifications from 11:00 until noon, and Associate Professor Justin G. Holbrook
spoke about diversity in the military from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Professor Nivala opened his remarks by talking about his own experiences in law school and the shift in the composition of both student bodies and faculties that he has witnessed over time before diving into the topic of eyewitness identification. He addressed some of the problems that impact eyewitness identification generally, observing, “If somebody is holding a pistol in your face, you know what you see? A pistol,” before adding that accurate identification is “particularly difficult if the person is not of your race or ethnicity.”
“This is now a topic we can talk about. In fact, in New Jersey, you must talk about it,” Nivala said, addressing the New Jersey Supreme Court’s findings in State v. Henderson, before answering a few student questions, including one about the new requirements for eyewitness testimony in New Jersey that include ten factors a judge must inform the jury of.
Holbrook - who directs Widener Law’s Veterans Law Clinic
and served as an Air Force JAG - opened his talk by discussing the importance of diversity in the United States. He observed that valuing diversity is not in fact intrinsic because in a winner-take-all republican democracy, the majority could opt to oppress the minority, but that to many modern U.S. citizens, “Democracy requires an understanding of autonomy.”
He discussed the value that diversity brings in a pluralistic society by enriching life experiences, encouraging the spread of ideas, and forcing people to examine what is sacred to them. The idea of the sacred and what people value beyond the logical and rational self was a theme that he returned to throughout the talk.
After offering a very brief look at the historical composition of the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War through the 20th century, he presented some statistics on the current composition of the United States military. He noted in particular the disparities between the enlisted ranks and the officers and said that the military is facing tremendous pressure to make the officer corps more diverse. He also addressed the integration of women into the military and the recent decision to allow women into combat roles, but also noted that women may hold different things sacred then men.
At the conclusion of his remarks, he took some questions from the students, including one about whether he believed that women holding different things sacred then men might make them less likely to opt to take on certain roles within the military.
“I think that people will self select,” he answered, comparing the situation to a similar issue with few women opting to become firefighters.