Law school program aims to debunk myth that lack of diversity in Hawaiian courts is a pipeline problem

A new leadership program at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law aims to increase diversity, inclusion, and representation among Hawaii’s legal professionals.

This comes at a time when some have called for more diversity on Hawaiian courts. Others argue that the lack of representation is a pipeline problem.

When Camille Nelson became Dean of the UH William S. Richardson School of Law, she made history as the first woman to hold the position in nearly 50 years.

But she never sought to break down barriers and sometimes wondered about the rarity of her accomplishments.

University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law


Island Leadership Lab Seminar Flyer

“I’ve never seen a dean who looks like me. Haven’t you seen – I’m a black woman who’s an immigrant from Jamaica. Some of us never get that pat on the shoulder, a hug or a hug to even think about the possibility of leading in a certain space. This is a chance for us to talk about this opportunity,” she said.

Nelson partnered with Native Hawaiian lawyer Noelani Kalipi to develop the Island Leadership Lab, a semester-long pilot project.

The aim is to encourage more women and minorities to think about pursuing options at the highest levels of the judiciary.

Kalipi says much of the program and training focuses on managing difficult conversations, understanding personal triggers and exploring diverse perspectives.

“Whether it’s the Kanaka Maoli perspective, the plantation perspective, whatever makes Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi. So that’s not the typical class where this leader says that, so that’s what we should be doing. A big some of the learning will happen in practice Let’s imagine what it looks like, how do you treat someone who is very attached to this particular position in this controversial situation and what questions could we ask to find out more about it? Kalipi said.

uh richardson entering 2019 class hawaii supreme court

William S. Richardson School of Law


Incoming Class of 2019 in front of the King Kamehameha statue at Aliʻiolani Hale, seat of the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

The launch of the program this fall comes as questions are raised about the lack of diverse representation in Hawaiian courts — both in terms of gender and ethnicity.

Nelson rejects the claim made by some that the problem is a lack of diverse candidates for judicial appointments.

“The typical reasoning is that there just aren’t any qualified people. So it’s also to absolutely debunk that myth. And on the other hand, to make sure those who are there are ready and more than equipped to take on these roles,” Nelson mentioned.

The program will also feature candid conversations with local and national leaders, including former Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Central Pacific Bank President Catherine Ngo and former Hawaii U.S. Attorney Kenji Price.