(Politico) – In 1988, a group of black students at Harvard Law School compiled a report designed to recognize the growing achievements of black students on campus and share their wisdom with newcomers. The longest essay in the 50-page newsletter was written by a 24-year-old third-year student named Michelle Robinson, who devoted more than 3,000 words to an appeal for greater faculty diversity. “The faculty’s decisions to distrust and ignore non-traditional qualities in choosing and tenuring law professors,” she wrote, “merely reinforce racist and sexist stereotypes.”
Harvard Law was a lofty perch, as privileged as it was competitive. It was no accident that the future Michelle Obama pressed ahead with her application after being waitlisted, or that she set out to make a difference. Raised in a working class Chicago family and educated at Princeton, she had lived the roiling discussions about inequality that were taking place at Harvard and around the country. At the law school by that year, “all the talk and the debates were shifting to race,” said Elena Kagan, a recent graduate and future Supreme Court justice.
During her three years on campus, Michelle represented indigent clients, worked on a law journal focused on African-American perspectives and sought to inspire a greater sense of purpose in her fellow students. Her friends were not surprised. “Michelle always, everything she wrote, the things that she was involved in, the things that she thought about, were in effect reflections on race and gender,” said Charles Ogletree, a Harvard professor and mentor to Michelle. “And how she had to keep the doors open for women and men going forward.”