Tuesday, June 14, 2011
ASP'ers know from their daily discussions with law students that there is a great deal of diversity within a student body. Law schools as entities, however, sometimes ignore that law students are unique from one another more than they have ever been before in legal education.
- Some law students come to us straight out of undergraduate school. Some law students worked for years before undergraduate school. Some law students worked for years after undergraduate school. Some law students have graduate/professional degrees already.
- Some law students are single parents. Some law students are married. Some law students are married with children. Spouses may be working or stay-at-home. Some law students are responsible for the care of parents, grandparents, or siblings.
- Some law students are 20-something. Some are 30-something. Some are 40-something. And some are much older.
- Law students are visual learners, verbal learners, aural learners, oral learners, kinesthetic learners, tactile learners, or any combination of these styles.
- Law students are global thinkers, intuitive thinkers, sequential thinkers, sensing thinkers, and pairs of these processing styles.
- Some law students have learning disabilities, ADHD, visual impairments, mobility impairments, or other characteristics that result in their having accommodations.
- Some law students are battling chronic illness, financial problems, family problems, or personal problems.
- Some law students want to practice. Some want to be law librarians. Some want to go into business. Some have no idea what type of law career they want.
- Some law students have English as a second language. Some law students have weak writing backgrounds. Some law students are deficient in math skills.
In short there is NO one size fits all for law students. Yet, so many types of decisions track what has been done in the past rather than consciously considering today's student body characteristics. Diversity in students can affect a myriad of areas including:
- orientation schedules
- class schedules
- tutoring times
- make-up class schedules
- review sessions for exams
- teaching methods
- testing methods
- support services
- emergency loan programs
- school-sponsored insurance
- curricular options.
(By the way, do not assume that one type of law school automatically does a better job on these decisions than another type. All law schools could do better on decision-making with diversity in mind - some may be farther ahead in this type of input, but none is perfect.)
So, why is it that well-meaning law schools sometimes make decisions that ignore the differences? In this day and age, I doubt that it is because of a lack of knowledge regarding all the different aspects of diversity. Instead, I think the decisions occur because of:
- budget cuts ("if it is across the board, everyone suffers equally" or "we never provided that support service before"),
- lack of planning ("we need to move now on this idea" or "we can worry about that later"),
- insensitivity ("it has always been that way" or "there are not a lot of students with that problem"), or
- lack of information from students telling us when there is a procedure or policy adversely affecting students ("five of us had child-care problems and couldn't attend that make-up class" or "international students run into extreme health care cost problems because the school insurance plan is not required").
Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that law schools need to change everything just because some students desire things to be different. I am saying that we need to consider whether there are characteristics of our students that we are missing when we make decisions. We can then at least weigh possible implications for learning and success and determine whether there is an appropriate modification that would work better than the way we had planned/always done it.
After-the-fact information from several students, for example, has made me re-think how I will schedule make-up classes next year. I want to try some new delivery methods to reach more students with scheduling conflicts. Several expertise areas are ones that I need to investigate to be more helpful to my students with disabilities. And I want to find ways to integrate my students' prior experiences in Europe into my EU course. (Amy Jarmon)