Terry Allen, whose scholarship focuses on the role of police in schoolchildren’s lives, is the first Race, Place and Equity Fellow at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Announced in January 2021, the University-wide fellowship is funded by a three-year, $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and creates a broad, interdisciplinary undergraduate program on Race, Place and Equity while partly funding 30 fellows and three faculty members. The positions have a fixed-term appointment of up to two years.

Allen earned his Ph.D. from the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. His dissertation, “A Web of Punishment: Race, Place, and School Policing,” examines the role and authority of school police officers, and why Black students are most vulnerable to negative interactions in low-income Black neighborhoods and schools. The research is forthcoming in Educational Researcher.

Allen said he is honored to receive the fellowship and that being at UVA is a full-circle moment dedicated to several mentors who have paved the way towards becoming a law professor. He met his first law professor mentor, UCLA’s Devon Carbado, while seeking feedback on an article.

“Professor Carbado offered his peer review and later helped me articulate a research agenda that tied together my interests in education and law,” Allen recalled. “I remember very vividly him asking me whether I had considered a career as a law professor. So for the remaining of my doctoral studies, I stewed on this and realized that was where I was headed.”

Allen is currently a J.D. candidate at the UCLA School of Law, where he served as editor-in-chief of the UCLA Law Review and is specializing in critical race studies and business law. He earned his master’s degree from Columbia University and bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Growing up in a Black working-class community, Allen said he first became interested in education law and inequality when he compared his experiences with discipline and punishment in public schools to that of his three younger sisters. He observed, and later confirmed in the paper he shared with Carbado during his doctoral studies, that race and gender played an important role in shaping teachers’ and school administrators’ perceptions and classroom management decisions about Black students, especially among girls.

“Black girls suffered from unique forms of discipline and punishment,” he said. For example, they would be punished or targeted for talking too loud, and for their clothing and hair due to racialized constructions of gender, class and sexuality. This was all too common for Allen’s younger sisters.

As a doctoral student, Allen took an interdisciplinary approach to better understand how race and gender inform education policy by taking courses on organizations, psychology and data science. A report he co-authored using school policing data in Los Angeles found that Black students made up 24% of the total arrest and citations, despite representing less than 9% of the districts’ student population.

“Boys of color made up 76% of all student involvement with the local school police department, and middle school- and elementary school-age children accounted for 1 in 4 of the total arrests,” he said. “Students as young as 8 were being arrested for very minor instances of misbehavior, such as just speaking too loudly.”

Allen said his research centers on two questions: What can the public learn about the structure of American public education and criminal justice systems? And how can we better understand how law and policy shape these larger safety goals within schools?

“It is important to understand the perspective of all stakeholders,” he said. “This includes students, parents, teachers, school police officers and local policymakers. One of the goals of my scholarship is to shift the school policing discussion away from arguments on whether officers are good or bad or racist or egalitarian to a focus on police power in its broad authority.”

He added that he would like to see more resources dedicated to community-based safety alternatives that are independent from law enforcement, such as mental health counselors, school climate coaches and other personnel focused on care-first restorative justice practices.

Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, said Allen is “uniquely engaged in this work,” with his multifaceted academic credentials and commitment to community-informed research.

“The importance of Terry’s research cannot be overstated,” said Forde-Mazrui, who chaired the fellowship search committee. “I am confident that Terry’s scholarship will have an important impact on a wide audience, including among community members, policymakers and scholars of sociology, education, constitutional law and critical race theory.”

Allen will guest lecture at UVA before teaching a course of his own, en route to his dream of becoming a law professor. He said mentoring students and creating opportunities for them to thrive is his favorite role in the profession.

“The idea of teaching students is near and dear to me, but for me, it’s not just teaching; I love research and I love research with students in concert with community members,” he said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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