Nearly 700 Rutgers Law School alumni, students, faculty and staff returned to Newark on April 14 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school’s pioneering Minority Student Program.
The Minority Student Program (MSP) was started by the law school in 1968, after the Newark Rebellion, in an effort to diversify the law school. Since that time, some 2,500 lawyers of color and disadvantaged lawyers of all ethnicities, have graduated from MSP and as a result, have diversified the legal profession in New Jersey and beyond.
Among those attending the celebration were some of the program’s most notable graduates – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Wade Henderson, the former president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, N.J. State Senator Nia Gill (D-Essex), N.J. Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), current and former Superior Court Appellate Division judges, Assignment judges and trial judges, along with leaders in business, public service, civil rights, government, and private practice.
Both Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon attended the gala, as did Rutgers Law Co-Deans Ronald Chen ’83 and Michael Cahill. Chen called the gala, held at the Robert Treat Hotel, the largest gathering of alumni in Rutgers Law history.
Gill and Quijana, both MSP graduates, announced an assembly resolution in honor of the MSP anniversary and Gill added, “MSP made me who I am.”
Some of the first graduates of the landmark program attended the event – including retired administrative law judge Savanah Potter-Miller ’71, Rutgers Professor Emeritus Lennox Hinds ’72, who went on to become Nelson Mandela’s attorney and an election monitor in South Africa, Charles Victor McTeer ’72, a noted civil rights attorney and plaintiff’s lawyer securing the first settlement against the tobacco industry, and Ollis Douglas ’72, a retired Essex County assistant public defender.
One of the most powerful panels of the day was when faculty members addressed those in attendance about social justice issues they’re working on through clinics, centers and scholarship. The professors talked about restorative justice for former inmates, advocating for children’s rights, keeping juvenile offenders out of solitary confinement, fighting against implicit bias, advocating for fair housing, and standing up for immigrant rights.
Keynote speaker Vince Warren ‘93, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, traced the history of the program, which started with just 20 African-American students in 1968. “The founders of MSP were thinking about you,” he said to the audience of alumni. “They were thinking about us.”
Warren said it was his foundation at Rutgers Law that has prepared him to fight for constitutional rights issues that range from the racial profiling of Muslims to police excessive force. “All of us are in it together,” he said. “We have to keep pushing to solve the fundamental problems in society and always be excellent lawyers.”
During the daytime program held at 15 Washington St., the site of the former law school, guests heard from panels of students, alumni, former MSP deans and faculty members. Rutgers Law Professor David Troutt, who led the MSP50 Committee for the law school, shared some of the findings he learned through surveying graduates and deans.
He said surveys showed that graduates found MSP “a source of strength” and were ready to go into communities and stand up for themselves and others. Others talked about a shared sense of community and shared experience they received at law school by being part of MSP.
During the evening program, two current MSP students were honored--Jamie Dinicola ’18, who received the community service award, and Tony Martinez ’18, who earned the academic achievement award. Latiqua Liles ’18, an MSP student, was chosen by her peers to speak at the gala. She said, “I don’t know where I” be without this amazing organization.” She read the names of the few African-American students who’d been admitted to Rutgers Law School prior to the MSP. “This changed people’s image of what a legal professional looks like.”