Temple Law School was proud to host the second annual celebration of the Hon. Nelson A. Díaz Professorship in Law with a panel discussion of Latinx perspectives on the historic impact of affirmative action and strategies to advance Latinx access to educational opportunity in the wake of the program’s demise. The Supreme Court struck down the historic program with its SFFA v. Harvard and UNC decisions. 

The panel included Dr. Carlos Vargas-Ramos, Director of Public Policy, External and Media Relations and Development at CENTRO and Professor Juan Cartagena, Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School and President Emeritus Latino Justice, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF). Associate Dean Donald Harris moderated, and the Hon. Nelson A. Díaz offered remarks to conclude the panel. 

The panel first examined the historical lead-up to affirmative action through the lens of Latinx experience, which focused on workers’ rights, language barriers, voting rights, housing discrimination, and excessive use of force. The 1970s saw the creation of both the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDEF) in the Southwest and the Puerto Rican LDEF in the East as Latinx lawyers and advocates worked to address these and other features of structural racism. 

Reviewing the Supreme Court’s evolving views of affirmative action, the panel noted the Court’s conclusion that remediation of social discrimination is not a compelling state interest – and that the impact of this conclusion has had devastating consequences for Latinx access to high quality K-12 education and by extension opportunities for higher education, professional employment, and increased social mobility. 

Looking ahead, the panel discussed tactics and strategies for improving Latinx access to education in the absence of a constitutional imperative like affirmative action and called on activists and advocates to “have courage to stand up for the importance of diversity, and not be cowered” by threats to extending the holding in SFFA to contexts like employment and economic initiatives. 

Judge Nelson Díaz praised the panel in his concluding remarks, which included a tribute to Temple’s late president, JoAnne A. Epps. He ended with President Epps’ words: If we want to be sure that our time here has meant something, we must ensure that we have handed off to those coming behind us a commitment – and a passion – to work for the best world possible.” 

About the Professorship 

The Nelson A. Díaz Professorship is the first Latino Professorship at Temple University. The Professorship upholds the mission and passion of Judge Díaz’s extraordinary life by supporting teaching and research into justice, equity, international human rights, civil rights, and corporate, public, and community service. The Lecture is an annual celebration of the Professorship. Alice G. Abreu is the inaugural Díaz Professor.