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University of Iowa News Release


March 24, 2009

Law school conference commemorates 20 years of Critical Race Theory

The University of Iowa College of Law will host a conference next week marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of Critical Race Theory, which deals with the issues of race and the law.

"It seemed an appropriate time, after 20 years, to honor the people who gave Critical Race Theory its name and founded the Critical Race Theory workshops, and to examine how the movement has evolved and where it's going," said Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a UI law professor and critical race theorist who is organizing the conference.

It's even more timely, she said, coming just months after Barack Obama became the first African-American president and is changing, in many ways, the nature of the discussion about race in the United States.

The conference will be held April 2-4 at the Boyd Law Building. Panel discussions will examine topics such as the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, race and politics, an analysis of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall's dissents, and the future of Critical Race Theory.

Many of the original developers of Critical Race Theory are also expected to attend, including UCLA professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is considered one of the movement's earliest pioneers. For more information and a full schedule of events visit

Harvard law professor Lani Guinier and University of Texas law professor Gerald Torres will start the conference with public lectures April 2 at 3 p.m. in the Boyd Law Building. Admission to those is free and open to the public.

Critical Race Theory was developed as a way to examine how race and America's racial history influences the country's laws and legal systems. Although racial injustice bred through centuries of slavery and segregation were common, there was little discussion until the 1980s of its effects on the legal system.

The first conference of the nascent movement was held in 1989 in Madison, Wis.

"That meeting inaugurated a concerted and sustained effort to end the silence about race," said Onwuachi-Willig. "The founders of the Critical Race Theory movement brought voices into this void of silence, telling stories about the meaning of race in the U.S. and in the world."

She said that Critical Race Theory now makes up a significant portion of legal scholarship.

"Most top law schools in the country feel it's important to have someone on their faculty who teaches race theory," she said.

The theory has also had an impact in the legal and political realm, as seen in numerous laws, legal arguments and court decisions. The theory has had a significant impact on laws and legal decisions regarding employment law, discrimination law, immigration law and voting rights law.

Onwuachi-Willig said the theory has even influenced tax law through the examination of the U.S. tax code for racial inequities by Emory University law professor Dorothy Brown.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),