Yegge Scholars & Friends Celebrate 50 Years of Increasing Diversity at Denver Law
In April 1967, a brief one-column article in the Denver Post announced what would grow into a major part of the legacy of former Denver Law Dean Robert B. Yegge: a grant from the Ford Foundation to sponsor three years of legal education for 20 Hispanic students — in an acknowledgement of the significant financial and societal barriers that stood between them and law school. In 1971, a year after the first group of scholars in this “experimental” program graduated with their JDs, another, much longer article in the Denver Post called Yegge’s initiative a “legal revolution.”
On May 19, Sturm College of Law alumni, current students, faculty and friends gathered in the Tuscan Ballroom at the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management on the DU campus to (belatedly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic) celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first Yegge Scholar graduates. Hosted by Dolores Atencio, JD’80, Fay Matsukage, JD’79, Patty Powell, JD’83, and the DU Latino Law Alumni Chapter, the event recognized those original groundbreaking scholars. Alumni Kenneth Padilla, JD'70, retired Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court Patricio Serna, JD'70, and Ralph Torres, JD'70, attended and helped to highlight the Sturm College of Law’s ongoing efforts to become a more inclusive and diverse institution.
As Dean Bruce Smith noted at the event, the tone of that 1971 Denver Post article was skeptical: "it wondered whether that commitment [Yegge] made was the right commitment. We know from the people in this room that he made the right choice. The right choice for the bar, the right choice for the law school, and the right choice for all of those who have benefitted from his vision."
A Continuing Trajectory
Alexi Freeman, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, expressed pride in the increasing number of students at the Sturm College of Law who identify as people of color and as diverse in other ways, and noted the law school’s intentional efforts to increase a sense of belonging. One of those efforts is Denver Law Ascent, a pre-orientation program designed to welcome and support incoming students from communities historically underrepresented in the legal profession, a goal that carries on the original purpose of that first grant in 1967.
Freeman also acknowledged that the work continues, and that through the “intentional, relentless effort” of our community, including alumni, students, faculty and supporters, we will continue on the path started more than 50 years ago.