Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu recently visited Whitman’s campus as a keynote speaker in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Her presentation, “Race, Law and Justice in America,” included a dialogue with Whitman President George Bridges about the criminal justice system.
Justice Yu has a special connection to Whitman through Sydney Conway ’13, who clerked for Yu over last summer and made such a positive impression on the judge that she wished to visit campus.
“For me, this was a particularly poignant and special event because of the connection to a recent graduate,” Associate Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt said. “Justice Yu’s presence on campus was a powerful reminder that all of us—students, alumni, staff and faculty—are always being assessed by those with whom we work, and when we perform at a high level, amazing things can happen!”
Conway remembers her summer with Justice Yu fondly.
“[Her] willingness to engage law students is truly impressive. The relationships she develops through having externs, judging moot court competitions and teaching at Seattle University are mutually beneficial,” Conway said. “Students that realize this have the amazing opportunity to learn, but also provide insight. This is a lesson not just for law students. Any young employees should know that even though they may lack experience in their new field, they have a perspective that is absolutely relevant to their employer.”
More than 220 Whitman students, faculty and staff members, as well as Walla Walla community members, gathered in Reid Campus Center’s Young Ballroom on the evening of Jan. 27.
In her remarks, Yu commented, “I asked myself, what difference does it make that I am a super minority on the Supreme Court? And it does. And it’s not because I decide the law differently, but I bring a different perspective to the table.”
Yu performed the first same-sex marriage in the state of Washington and is the first member of the LGBT and Asian communities to serve on the State Supreme Court.
She gave some brief remarks before sitting down with President Bridges. Before becoming Whitman’s 13th president, President Bridges specialized in criminology research, and worked as a social scientist in the staff office of the United States Attorney General. His questions pertained to areas of his own past research as well as current events like the protests over police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri.
In response to his questions, Yu said, “Sometimes I ask myself: should a judge be talking about race? Especially as a person of color, it’s difficult to talk about race. But we have a moral obligation to talk about race, to hold others accountable, because it’s not all equal under the law.”
She continued, “There is a generation of kids that doesn’t believe that the criminal justice system works for them. That’s why I feel compelled to travel and speak to you all.”