Message from AMTA President Brandon Harper
June 16, 2020
Dear AMTA Community:
Every two years, a new AMTA President has an opportunity to articulate to the broader community a vision for the future of the organization. That conversation typically takes place during the awards ceremony at the National Championship Tournament. Unfortunately, as we all know, there was no National Championship Tournament in Chicago this April. Had we met in April, we would have discussed a number of new AMTA initiatives aimed at improving this activity to which we all dedicate so much of our time.
But it isn’t April, and our country is in a very different place than we were just a few short months ago. We are seeing strong expressions against racism and racial injustice from coast to coast, and people around the world are standing in solidarity with Black and Brown communities that are mourning the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and so many other Black Americans whose lives were cut short. As a Black former competitor, I have struggled to put into words the myriad feelings that so many in the Black community are experiencing. Black lives matter, and AMTA stands in solidarity with our students, alumni, and friends who are supporting the Black community and demanding and working for positive change. As I write you, Juneteenth, which commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, is around the corner. We are still suffering from a global pandemic that has had a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Brown Americans. And this is all happening as we commemorate the contributions of our LGBTQ+ community during Pride month. To say that this is a challenging time for many in our country is beyond an understatement. But this isn’t the time to turn away from those feelings or brush them aside. Quite the opposite, this is the moment to lean in to taking steps in our own lives and communities to push for radical positive change. Since AMTA is at its core an educational organization I encourage those looking for ways to learn more about the issues that have been in the spotlight during the past several weeks to consider this list of books, films, and podcasts, this list of books for children, and this collection of works.
It has been overwhelming to see so many mock trial programs speaking out, educating others, and raising and donating money to worthwhile causes. I know that members of the greater AMTA community, including Board members and volunteers have done the same, including opening their wallets and donating their professional services. As professors, lawyers, and professionals who are volunteering to help educate future members of our professions, we are in a unique position to help students develop the skills to combat injustice and bring about positive change. And that is not something that we take lightly.
AMTA 2020 Initiatives
Today, I am announcing to the AMTA community two new AMTA initiatives aimed at further ensuring that we continue taking concrete steps so that AMTA’s work and events are inclusive and in line with our commitment to diversity.
First, I am announcing the establishment of AMTA’s Committee on Diversity & Inclusion, which will be tasked with identifying and proposing specific steps for our organization. The committee’s charge is broad, but I expect it to consider, for example, helping us improve the representation of currently underrepresented groups among our judging pools, recommending solutions for addressing implicit bias in judging, and building strategic partnerships with minority and women’s bar associations and colleges and universities like Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which are currently underrepresented among AMTA’s competitors. I am thrilled that AMTA Executive Committee Member, Director, and Northwood University Professor DeLois Leapheart has accepted my nomination to chair the committee. I look forward to working with Professor Leapheart and I want to thank Professor Leapheart for her steadfast commitment to the committee’s vision and work. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas.
Second, I am excited to announce AMTA’s Student Advisory Board. The Student Advisory Board will be a collaborative, innovative, and diverse group of current student competitors who will provide the current student perspective on a variety of issues—including issues related to diversity, inclusion, and competition—to the AMTA Board of Directors. Director Jacinth Sohi and Candidate Director Samantha Feak have accepted my nomination to co-chair the Student Advisory Board. Any student who intends to compete during the 2020-2021 mock trial season and who has competed in at least one AMTA regional competition is invited to apply to join the committee. Students will be selected for an appointment to the Student Advisory Board based on an application and interview. We will take great care to ensure the selected students are diverse in their race, gender, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics consistent with AMTA’s commitment to diversity. Students will be considered from every geographic region, and will include both student-run and coach-run programs, programs with varying degrees of institutional financial support, programs that are new to AMTA, and programs that have shown varied levels of competitiveness within AMTA. Students from any underrepresented group or program type are encouraged to apply. You can find more information, including the application and a referral link, here.
In addition to the initiatives I have announced today, I am working closely with each of our committee chairs to ensure that all of AMTA’s work is in keeping with its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and I will be in touch with the community in the coming months regarding applications to serve as AMTA Representatives and applications to join the Board of Directors. Please know that continuing to increase diversity in all facets of our competitions and among our leadership is among my highest priorities for the next two years.
AMTA 2020-2021 Competitive Season
I also have an update for the community regarding our competition season. My update includes good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad news. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AMTA Board has determined that is not feasible to complete the 2019-2020 season in person or to host all of those competitions online before the start of the next academic year. This was confirmed by the results of our community survey. A majority of ORCS and NCT teams indicated they were not interested or able to complete the season online this summer. Therefore, after discussion, the Board voted to cancel the remainder of the 2020 competitive season, including the remaining three ORCS competitions and the National Championship Tournament. This was in no way an easy decision, but we believe it is the right decision in light of our concern for the health and well-being of our student competitors.
Now I’ll get to the good news. Those seniors who qualified for ORCS or the National Championship Tournament but were unable to compete at those tournaments will have One Last Time to compete! Today, I am announcing AMTA’s One Last Time (“OLT”) competition, AMTA’s first ever completely online and completely free mock trial tournament. Teams of four will compete online August 7-9, and the OLT case will be released on July 28—10 days before the competition. All graduated seniors whose seasons were cut short because of COVID-19 are eligible to compete, and teams are not limited to students from the same school. Additional registration information and guidance can be found on the OLT website, and you can contact OLT Committee Chair Elizabeth Smiley with any questions. Ms. Smiley may be contacted here. I hope to see many of you (virtually) soon!
We are hopeful that we can complete the spring 2021 regionals, ORCS, and NCT competitions in person as scheduled, but we are also preparing to host competitions next spring online if necessary. Registration for the 2020-2021 season is open and you can contact AMTA Tournament Administration Committee Chair Melissa Watt with questions about regionals, ORCS, and the National Championship Tournament. Ms. Watt may be contacted via email here. As always, you can check our website for information about any invitational tournaments that our member schools decide to host this fall.
Every year, we work hard to provide an opportunity for students to learn about our legal system and to take their skills into the courtroom. Our goal is that this activity is inclusive, educational, and fun. We have absolutely zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. Racism, sexism, and homophobia have no place in AMTA. Any student, coach, faculty member, alumni, or friend of AMTA who has any questions or concerns should feel free to contact me directly. In addition, I want to thank those who have already shared their suggestions with me over the past month and I want to continue that conversation by encouraging everyone to reach out with your questions, concerns, and ideas. I am committed to transparency and openness, and I want every member of this community to feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read through this message and I hope to see all of you around the AMTA circuit very soon.