Stetson Law Wins 4th National HEED Award for Diversity and Inclusion in a Row

For the fourth consecutive year, Stetson University College of Law has won INSIGHT Into Diversity‘s Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, a national honor recognizing U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The 2023 HEED Award recognizes Stetson University as a whole for its diversity initiatives as well as those specific to Stetson Law. This is the first time Stetson University, which is headquartered in DeLand, Florida, has won this award. 

A group of students stands in front of a historic bridge on a sunny day.
A Civil Rights and the Constitution travel course is an immersive experience at Stetson Law.

The winners, announced Oct. 11, underwent a rigorous application process that examined recruitment and retention of students and employees at their institution, as well as supportive leadership for diversity in campus culture.

“Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus,” said Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education.

Years of fostering diversity & inclusion

Stetson Law was recognized for co-founding and co-leading the St. Petersburg Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center in partnership with Eckerd College, the only entity of its kind in Florida. Stetson Law continues to reinvest in the effort by sharing expertise and resources beyond its Gulfport campus, exploring ways to bring communities together, and training lawyers and future leaders to be part of the work.

A woman speaks from a podium in the Great Hall.
Law Professor Judith Scully speaks to students who completed the 2023 Youth Civic Engagement Program.

“The TRHT Center’s ultimate goal is to build the bridges necessary to connect our college campuses to community activists, government officials, and other individuals who are working on making our communities stronger, healthier, and more equitable,” said Law Professor Judith Scully, who led efforts to establish the program. “To be involved in organizing around racial healing and transformation at this moment in time in Florida is a challenging opportunity that the St. Pete TRHT Center is perfectly poised to meet.”

A headshot of Stetson Law Professor Jaclyn Lopez in front of a hilly outdoor backdrop.
Stetson Law Professor Jaclyn Lopez, Director of the Jacobs Law Clinic

Stetson Law has received the HEED Award every year since 2020 for a range of diversity-related initiatives, including an enlightening Civil Rights & the Law travel course and integrating the role of race in the legal system into course materials for required Criminal Law and Legal Writing & Research courses. This year, it received an honorable mention for creating the Dick & Joan Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment.

“The Jacobs Law Clinic prioritizes ensuring our next generation of lawyers has practical opportunities to develop leadership skills like empathy and cultural humility,” said Law Professor Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Jacobs Clinic. “Our law students represent diverse clients with challenging legal issues and leave the clinic prepared to bring change to their communities.”

A unique & welcoming environment

Stetson was one of 108 colleges and universities across America selected for the award, joining Columbia University, Cornell, Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley. Each school will be featured in the November / December issue of the magazine.

Dean Benjamin Barros speaks at a podium in the Great Hall.
Dean Benjamin Barros commends students who took part in the 2023 Youth Civic Engagement Program.

“Cultivating a law school environment that is welcoming to all is a critical part of our efforts to equip our students to advocate for a more just future,” said College of Law Dean D. Benjamin Barros. “It is an honor to be recognized for the investment – of time, energy, and dollars – in meaningful diversity initiatives. Winning our fourth HEED Award in a row speaks to the wonderfully vibrant community of faculty members, staff, students, and alumni we have at Stetson Law.”

“We are elated to receive the HEED Award, which is a wonderful affirmation of our efforts throughout the university to provide an academic and professional experience that is personable and authentic for community members of all backgrounds and identities,” said Carmen Johnson, JD, Stetson’s Executive Officer for Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion and a Stetson Law alumna.

Carmen Johnson speaks at a podium.
Carmen Johnson, Stetson University’s Executive Officer for Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion.

“Stetson provides such a unique and welcoming environment, and this is the result of dedicated administrative, academic, and student leadership throughout our campuses. We celebrate our community and this ongoing work and consider the HEED Award as welcomed motivation to keep going and to keep innovating,” Johnson added.

Progress on the main campus

The publication praised Stetson University for its notable investment in a new Cross-Cultural Center on the DeLand campus for underrepresented students and multicultural student groups. At a time when some colleges are facing challenges in investing in diversity and inclusion programs, Stetson renovated a historic home to create this unique, welcoming space.

“This is an incredible honor for Stetson to receive the national HEED Award and for our College of Law to receive it for the fourth consecutive year,” said Stetson President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD. “It is a reflection of the deep commitment and dedicated work of our students, faculty and staff to create inclusive and vibrant campuses that promote a sense of belonging for all our students.”

The DeLand campus also was recognized for its “Be Seen” marketing campaign that amplifies concepts of student belonging and students’ need to be their authentic selves as well as efforts on the DeLand campus to support first-generation college students, who made up a quarter of the student body in the Spring 2023 semester.