During the final weeks before she received her Harvard law degree, Mrs. Obama participated in a sit-in protest along with about 50 other BLSA members. In what The New York Times called an “occupation,” the future lawyers stormed the office of Dean James Vorenberg on May 10, 1988 with a list of 12 demands.
Carrying signs demanding an “end to racism,” they occupied the dean’s office for 24 hours and demanded that Harvard Law School hire 20 female or minority professors in the next four years as tenured, or tenure-track, professors. Seven of those professors, they insisted, must be black — and four of those seven female.
They also demanded tenure for Ogletree and a deanship for Bell, and dictated a new plan for curriculum diversity that would include a required course on racial issues.
During the Obama presidency, the same Mrs. Obama has reportedly helped the president pick appointees to the federal courts. Along with Cassandra Butts — a former White House deputy counsel and another Derrick Bell disciple — the first lady reportedly helped Obama decide on the “wise Latina” Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court nominee.
President Obama also named Robert Wilkins, the president of the Harvard BLSA in 1988 and organizer of the occupation of the dean’s office, to a federal circuit judgeship in the District of Columbia.
“Diversity in this country is a good thing,” Mrs. Obama told MSNBC when asked about Sotomayor, “whether it’s gender or race or socio-economic background or religion. You know, that’s the world I come from.”