In Memoriam: Lani Guinier

john a. powell, Othering & Belonging Institute
Lani was a close friend. I loved her mind and her. Through her work and life, she offers insight to both better understand our society and to begin to repair it. She is well known for her powerful work in voting and merit. She helped us begin to see the limits of majority rule and how we could have a voting system for institutionalized tyranny. She reminded us that saving the canary in the coal mine was about fixing the air in the mine for all of us. One of her most profound writings is demanding not just reading but studying her work on racial literacy and rejection of racial liberalism. in From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy she uses the limits of Brown to help us understand the complexity of race and its relationship to class and geography, she also demonstrates the failure to take seriously the needs and interests of poor white too easily lead to a racial backlash and polarization. Thank you Lani. We will miss you and continue to learn from you.

Elise Boddie, Rutgers,  Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice
Lani Guinier was a visionary “small d” democrat. She was legendary in voting rights circles, but her insights about the centrality of democracy to equality and opportunity extended well beyond voting. Her writings challenged us to think broadly about how institutions could promote democracy outside the structures of formal representation. For example, she sought to redefine “merit” by urging colleges and universities to admit students who would become engaged citizens and public-minded leaders. She argued that problems of racial injustice were a “canary in the mine” — a silent warning about systemic ills that damage the lives of so many and how repairing them would help to mend broader social fault lines. She also pushed for democracy in the law school classroom by confronting gendered instructional norms that disproportionately privileged men and silenced women. Lani Guinier was not only a brilliant lawyer and scholar; she was also a champion of democracy and a champion for people.

Susan Eaton, Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy
More than two decades ago, I scanned the small audience gathered at Harvard for a reading from my first solo-authored book. I am not always an anxious speaker, but to spot THE Lani Guinier in the second row, made my hands shake. I’d seen Professor Guinier command audiences with equal amounts intellectual gravitas and effortless charm. I’d watched her (good-naturedly) smash opponents in debates over affirmative action. I tried to read everything she wrote. I tried to write like her. After the reading, she stood in line to compliment me more generously than I suppose I felt I deserved because I had to hold back tears. We agreed to meet the following week. But after that first meeting in her office, with her wit and wisdom, our areas of disagreement, and her family photos all freely shared, she made me feel seen and valued rather than terrified. Over two decades, Lani would continue to wow me, to enthrall me and while we would never become personally close, she was always an important model for me. Several years after that reading, Lani and I would join a week-long education equity working group of a dozen or so education and legal scholars at Stanford University. Having no patience for the jargon and vagueness that permeates education-related discourse, she tore apart our words, our metaphors, our half-baked arguments, sometimes interrupting a speaker mid-sentence. It could be annoying at times, especially for academics comfy with their insider language. But Lani disarmed us with humor and imbued the group with a sense of mission, so that together, we could select exactly the right words and craft the most effective agenda-moving strategy. I think we all came to see that it wasn’t persnicketiness, but an aspiration to get to some kind of useful truth together that drove her. Lani didn’t know it, but merely by watching and reading her, by being open to her criticism and believing her praise, just by being in rooms with her, she made me a profoundly better thinker, writer, teacher, and mentor

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