Several national law student associations are calling for Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor who for years has espoused openly racist rhetoric, to be suspended from campus and prevented from speaking to students.
The National Black Law Students Association, the National Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and the North American South Asian Law Students Association jointly released a letter on Wednesday, shared first with NBC Asian America, condemning Wax’s comments. In recent interviews, Wax has said that the U.S. would be “better off with fewer Asians,” and that “Blacks” and Asians are resentful of Western success.
“That Wax has been permitted to teach, supervise, and ridicule minority law students for over twenty one years is alarming,” the letter said. “Few understand how much more burdensome law school is for students who continuously receive the message that they are ‘less than’ or do not belong.”
The message, co-written by student leaders, enumerates action Penn can take to remedy the situation, including removing Wax from all teaching duties and investigating if her grading of students of color has been fair during her two decades at the school.
The investigation should be completely transparent to students, the letter says, and Wax should be suspended from campus grounds during the process. According to the law school’s website, she’s currently teaching two courses.
“It’s a bit scary thinking about the impact that she’s had teaching at Penn for so long,” Dillon Yang, president of the National Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and a second-year law student at Notre Dame University, told NBC Asian America. “Professors are supposed to teach the law in a neutral way, in ways that law students can form their own thoughts about the law. But clearly she doesn’t hide what she truly feels about the different minority groups in America. It’s hard for me to believe that it wouldn’t shine through in a classroom setting.”
“The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has previously made clear that Professor Wax’s views do not reflect our values or practices,” said Meredith Rovine, a spokesperson for the law school. “In January 2022, Dean Ruger announced that he would move forward with a University Faculty Senate process to address Professor Wax’s escalating conduct, and that process is underway.”
Wax did not respond to a request for comment, but she spoke on Penn’s sanctions against her in a YouTube interview in January with Gad Saad. She stood by her claims.
“My case is on some level not about me. I’m just roadkill, I’m a casualty in the culture wars,” Wax told Saad, whose YouTube channel has more than 230,000 subscribers. “What I see being said and done with respect to me is truly alarming. It is a total repudiation of the very concept of academic freedom.”
Richard Garzola, chair of NBLSA and a second-year law student at Georgetown University, said Wax isn’t the first professor accused of racism to teach at a law school. But her comments are cutting and feel intentionally harmful, he said.
“She was using verbiage from the late 1800s or early 1900s, speaking about students as ‘the Blacks,’” he said. “I wonder, when is that cloud of tenure going to stop protecting folks at legal institutions?”
In an interview with Tucker Carlson last week, Wax called India a “s—hole” and said South Asian American women should be more grateful to be in the U.S. She also doubled down on her previous anti-Asian rhetoric.
“I took those comments pretty personally,” Yang said. “People of color are extremely underrepresented in the legal field as a whole. For her to still be a professor just reinforces that stereotype that minorities don’t belong in the legal field.”
Both Garzola and Yang say they worry about new law students coming to campus when people like Wax are able to get away with overt racism. As leaders on campus and among minority students nationwide, the two said they’ve heard first-hand accounts of what racism looks like in academia.
Though Wax has now been removed from teaching a mandatory first-year course, damage to years of previous students may have already been done, they said.
“Starting law school itself is very challenging,” Yang said. “A lot of times you feel like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I belong.’ And taking a first-year class with her would only reinforce that feeling.”
They said they released the letter in order to put pressure on Penn to take more action than they have to this point.
“As descendants of enslaved ancestors, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and persons holding multiple identities among these, we reject Amy Wax’s hateful rhetoric that we and our communities are dangerous, inferior, do not belong, have made fewer contributions, and are inherently less able to utilize the law because of our skin colors or heritages,” the letter reads. “Minority law students belong in the spaces they occupy.”