‘We Need to Talk About an Injustice’: Bryan Stevenson delivers Ruth Adler Lecture at University of Edinburgh

Law PhD Candidate, Vivek Bhatt

In this guest post, Law PhD Candidate, Vivek Bhatt, reflects on Bryan Stevenson’s visit to Edinburgh Law School to give the 2019 Ruth Adler Memorial Lecture, and to receive an honorary doctorate as part of the School’s summer graduation ceremony.

Bryan Stevenson (c) Nick Frontiero Photography 2019

 

 

 

On 8 July 2019, the Global Justice Academy hosted a lecture by Bryan Stevenson, recipient of an honorary doctorate at the Edinburgh Law School.  Stevenson is founder of the Equal Justice Institute (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, and a clinical professor at the NYU School of Law. Stevenson works as a legal representative for disadvantaged and marginalised individuals, particularly young and poor people who are on death row or serving life sentences. He and his colleagues at the EJI have achieved the exoneration or release of over 125 individuals on death row. Stevenson is also the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,[1]  which was a New York Times bestseller and won the Carnegie Medal for the best nonfiction book of 2014.

Stevenson’s lecture circulated around a question that is as succinct as it is complex: how do we, as human rights advocates, address injustice? Firstly, he said, we must create justice by becoming proximate to those suffering inequality and injustice. Recounting his relationship with his grandmother, who wished that Stevenson would always be able to feel her embracing him, the skilful orator argued that we must know and seek to understand those who suffer injustice in order to affirm their humanity and dignity. Thus, human rights practice is not about the deployment of legal arguments from afar, but rather about stepping away from one’s legal expertise and embracing those who suffer violations of dignity.

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Report from an IIF Event – Academic Freedom: “national security” threats in Turkey, India and the UK

Can the university be a space where academic freedom reigns while restrictions are increasingly threatening voices and lives outside its gates? Or must spaces for politics be opened up on and off campus in order to address the invasion of national security (and capitalist) logics into the realms of open enquiry? On 27 October 2016, scholars and activists engaged these questions with a focus on the variable effects of the securitisation of university space in Turkey, India and the UK.

A panel on Turkey included academics and students who have lost their jobs as a result of the broader crackdown on dissent following the failed coup in July. They highlighted the connections between increasing violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey—which precipitated the “Academics for peace” petition that has been used as a pretext for dismissing many signatories from their posts—and the attempts of the state to impose controls on its critics. They asked if the focus on the plight of academics may mean that this violence recedes from the view of international publics. Efforts to maintain solidarity among those now outside the academy and those still within it, as well as initiatives to take the university outside spaces the government controls, provide hope for continued resistance in fearful times and carve out a more universal idea of the University as institution and spirit that always has had to be fought for and salvaged from strategies of subjection from various quarters, not only outside the University. In this way, this panel was inspiring for all university struggles, not just those related to Turkey.

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Counter-Terrorism, Radicalisation, and the University: Debating the Prevent Strategy

On Friday 15 January 2016, the Global Justice Academy and the Centre for Security Research at The University of Edinburgh hosted a panel discussion on the Prevent Strategy obligations that have been placed on higher education institutions. GJA Student Ambassador, Rebecca Smyth, went along to the debate and outlines the debated arguments as well as her thoughts on this contentious issue in this guest post.

A thing of nothing or something more sinister?  Under section 26 of the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act universities must “have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.”  The origins of this ‘Prevent’ duty, and its potential implications for staff and students, were considered at a panel discussion organised by the Global Justice Academy and Centre for Security Research last Friday.  Chaired by Akwugo Emejulu, the panel comprised Gavin Douglas, Deputy Secretary of Student Experience here at the University of Edinburgh; Richard Jones of the School of Law; Genevieve Lennon of the University of Strathclyde Law School; Urte Macikene, EUSA Vice President of Services; and Andrew Neal of the Politics and International Relations department.

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Why We Blame the Victim, and Why We Have To Stop: a Perspective from a Historian

Mikki headshot

Dr Michelle Brock is an Assistant Professor of History at Washington and Lee University, specialising in British History. In this guest post, Mikki examines the culture of ‘victim blaming’ that has been reinvigorated in the United States over the past six months, from the perspective of an early-modernist who researches belief and the Devil.

From the decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the disturbing Rolling Stone article on a brutal gang rape at UVA, this country has produced a harrowing month of news. The reaction of much of the American public to these stories has been as distressing as their content. Many have turned not to self-searching or activism, but to stereotype and judgement. They rush to point out that Brown and Garner had, after all, committed crimes, drawing on centuries-old racial tropes to point out their size or comment that they were acting like “thugs” with “bad attitudes.” When they hear about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses across the country, they question the victim’s dress, behaviour, and alcohol consumption, wondering if not explicitly saying that she might have been “asking for it.” In short, we are a country that blames the victims.

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

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