Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at ASIL

DEI within ASIL

Driven by expanding awareness of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) and informed by racial justice movements across the globe, the Society is actively fostering a more diverse and inclusive community in which all of its members are valued and respected for their talent and lived experiences.

In recent years, the Society has made important strides in fostering DEI, including through efforts to attract a diverse corps of leaders at all levels and to ensure that speakers and panelists throughout its programmatic activities fully reflect the diversity within our broad international membership. This has included adopting guidelines for our meetings and events that make clear our expectation that all panels will be diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, and that panels addressing issues related to specific geographic regions or communities will include voices from within those regions and communities. It has been our policy to require gender parity on panels for a number of years, and speakers from previously marginalized or underrepresented groups have made up a substantial proportion of the total number of speakers at the Annual Meeting. We also work to ensure that the leadership of ASIL—including officers, the Executive Council, committees, and Interest Groups—embodies the diversity we seek. The Society also works with its partner organizations to ensure, insofar as possible, that events it cosponsors also meet these expectations. The Society has made substantial progress in all of these areas, but continued advances will require consistent, ongoing effort.

We are committed to ensuring that DEI principles (see Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, below) are embedded throughout the Society and in all of our key areas of work. In Spring 2022, the Society created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Karen Bravo and Christie Edwards, which is working to mainstream DEI throughout the Society and to monitor our progress.

In July 2022, the editors of the American Journal of International Law published a Diversity Statement and Agenda expressing the Journal's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of the Journal's work and resolving to take a series of steps in furtherance of that goal.

These efforts and the formal steps described below are part of the Society’s ongoing efforts to provide redress for the history of de jure and de facto exclusion of women, people of color, and members of other underrepresented groups, within ASIL and the larger international law community.

In 1974, Alona Evans, who would later become ASIL’s first woman elected President, and her co-author, Carol Per Lee Plumb, wrote a Note in the American Journal of International Law exploring a little-known chapter in the history of the Society. It began with a quotation from the regulation on membership adopted at the first meeting of the Society’s Executive Council on January 29, 1906: “Any man of good moral character interested in the objects of the Society may be admitted to membership in the Society.” She proceeded to describe the ambivalent position of women in the Society’s early years. A 1906 newspaper despatch appeared to contradict the regulation, stating that “[w]omen are also welcomed to membership,” and one woman, Dean Mary Elizabeth Urch, was among the first registered members. 

Nevertheless, two early applicants for admission, Belva Ann Lockwood, a well-known advocate of women’s suffrage, and Jane Addams, the prominent peace activist and founder of Hull House, were denied membership. In 1906, the Treasurer wrote a note to the Recording Secretary suggesting that Ms. Lockwood “should be excluded, for as a member she would make speeches at the meetings and attend the dinners which would lead to complications and might throw ridicule upon the proceedings.” In 1915, Miss Adams was notified by the Secretary, James Brown Scott, that “men only are eligible to membership,” and she was welcome instead to subscribe to the Journal “for the same amount as the annual dues.”

Change finally came in 1921, following the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. At the Executive Council meeting of November 13, 1920, President Elihu Root seconded the motion of future Secretary of State Robert Lansing to amend the membership regulation from “man” to “person,” thus admitting women to full membership.

Although it is not known how many women were denied membership between 1906 and 1921, or how many were discouraged even from applying, the Executive Council adopted a resolution on April 4, 2018, to confer posthumous membership on Ms. Addams, Ms. Lockwood, and any other women whose applications were denied during that 15-year period. 

The resolution also urged that additional research be undertaken to determine whether members of other groups also were excluded from membership and merit similar redress.


Adopted by the Executive Council
April 4, 2018

RESOLVED, That the American Society of International Law, wishing to provide recognition and posthumous redress to women who were excluded from membership in the Society during its early years, hereby confers membership on JANE ADDAMS, BELVA ANN LOCKWOOD, and on any other women whose applications for membership were denied from 1906-1921.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Society should undertake additional research to determine whether members of other groups also were excluded from membership over the course of the Society’s history, and merit similar redress.

Representation of women in leadership has improved vastly since Alona Evans served as ASIL’s first woman elected as President in 1980. Four of the Society’s past eight Presidents have been women: Lucy Reed (2008-2010); Lori Fisler Damrosch (2012-2014); Lucinda Low (2016-2018); and Catherine Amirfar (2020-2022). Their leadership and that of numerous other women has had a transformative effect on the character and work of the Society.

Pursusant to the 2018 resolution, the Society undertook to ascertain whether and how members of other groups were expressly or in practice excluded or discouraged from seeking membership in the course of the Society’s history, and, if so, consider appropriate redress.

In 2020, a five-member ad hoc committee, chaired by Henry J. Richardson III and including Rafael Porrata-Doria, Janie Chuang, Eleanor Brown, and Tiyanjana Maluwa, issued a Report Investigating Possible Exclusion or Discouragement of Minority Membership or Participation by the Society During Its First Six Decades (the “Richardson Report”).

The committee noted that it did not find documented evidence of a written policy of ASIL that excluded minorities, or documentation of specific persons who were excluded (unlike in the case of women). The committee nonetheless found persistent structural policies of “silent and effective exclusion of domestic minorities of color,” reflective of racial discrimination in the United States during that time. As stated in Frederic Kirgis’ historical study, The American Society of International Law’s First Century, 1906-2006 (which the committee cites): “Diversity in the 1930’s did not mean what it does in 2006. Only a few women and no persons of color, so far as can be determined, were sought for membership in the inner circles of the Society” (at 124). The Richardson Reports notes that the book does not reference any people of color in the Society until the 1960s.

To date, there has been only one Black President of ASIL, Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Jr. (serving from 1978-1980), although persons of color play an increasingly prominent role in ASIL leadership (including seven of the last sixteen Vice Presidents).

In 1994, on the initiative of former Vice President Richardson, the Society created the Goler T. Butcher Medal in honor of the long-standing ASIL member and human rights scholar, practitioner, and government official, Goler T. Butcher, who had died the previous year.

Building on the findings of the Richardson Report, the Executive Council, adopted the following resolution on November 11, 2021:


Policy Resolution on Past Discrimination

Adopted by the Executive Council
November 11, 2021

At the 2020 Annual Meeting, the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law, (ASIL), accepted the report of the Ad Hoc Committee Investigating Possible Exclusion or Discouragement of Minority Membership or Participation by the Society During Its First Six Decades (the Richardson Report).

That report concluded that in the first decades of the ASIL, from 1906 to approximately 1960, the Society engaged in racially discriminatory practices that had the effect of excluding domestic people of color and discouraging them from seeking membership and participating in its activities.

In response to the report, the Executive Council adopted the following resolution in April 2020:

“RESOLVED, That the American Society of International Law acknowledges its persistent failure during the first decades of its existence to embrace the participation of persons of color and members of other underrepresented groups and to actively encourage their membership in the Society.

“FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Society of International Law welcomes and actively seeks the full participation of persons of color and members of other underrepresented groups in all of its activities and recommits itself to its goal of achieving and maintaining a membership that is diverse and inclusive.”

Although the Richardson Report did not identify specific individuals who were excluded from the Society, it nevertheless recognized that an apology was owed to domestic persons of color who might have become members and leaders of the Society but for their exclusion and discouragement by the Society during its first six decades, including Blacks, persons of Latin or Asian heritage, and members of other underrepresented groups.

Accordingly, the Executive Council hereby adopts the following additional resolution:

RESOLVED, That, as an organization dedicated to the advancement of international law and to the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the inherent dignity of all persons, the American Society of International Law apologizes for its past practices that had the effect of excluding people of color and members of other underrepresented groups and discouraging them from membership and participation in its activities.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Society pledges and commits to do everything in its power to right those wrongs of exclusion and to work to eliminate racial and other forms of discrimination.

On November 11, 2021, as an expression of its resolve, the Executive Council unanimously adopted the following policy:

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Policy Adopted by the Executive Council
November 11, 2021

The American Society of International Law (ASIL) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational membership organization incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia in 1906 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1950. Its mission is to foster the study of international law and to promote the establishment and maintenance of international relations on the basis of law and justice.

As a global leader in advancing international law and justice, the Society is dedicated, in pursuit of its mission, to fostering a diverse, welcoming, and inclusive community that recognizes the inherent dignity and equality of all people.
ASIL is committed to:

  1. Upholding the value and inherent dignity of all people.
  2. Eliminating all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on age, citizenship, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, indigenous origin, marital status, nationality, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic or veteran status.
  3. Fostering a community that is equitable, inclusive, accessible, and welcoming to all.
  4. Promoting the participation of members of historically underrepresented and marginalized groups in all the activities of the Society, including in leadership, programs, and publications.

This commitment embodies a core value of today’s Society and will continue to be a focus across the full range of its activities.