Wednesday, April 26, 2017
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman.
Graduation is always a very exciting time for me and an even more exciting time for the students but this year is a particularly bittersweet one for me. Why? Well, this 2017 graduation ushers in the official end of my role as Director of the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP). Of course, I will continue to work with students in my capacity as an academic support professional but my interactions with this very unique group of students I had the pleasure of working with over the past eight years comes to an end. LEOP was the conditional admission program offered at the law college which allowed some prospective students to participate in a summer program with the understanding that an achievement of minimum competency would allow them to gain admission to the law college. My participation in this performance based admission program entailed reviewing applications, co-coordinating the program, spending six weeks in the summer with these students, and monitoring their law school careers and bar exam performance. I saw these students manage stress, contend with new tasks, seek out help, and build community. I am grateful that students felt comfortable enough to reveal their fears and concerns, seek advice, and share successes and challenges. I recognize that it is very rare to be a part of the various aspects of a law student’s growth as a person and a student.
Monday was the end of the year celebration for the graduates of LEOP but also the celebration of the end of LEOP. In attendance were professors, staff, students, and alums who were brought together by this program. Suddenly, the atmosphere at the celebration quickly and surprisingly became highly emotional. The lunch gathering highlighted student accomplishments, contributions to the law college, and reflection on their journeys. It was quite amazing to note the impact one can have on a student simply by engaging with the student and choosing certain words to communicate with them. Students watch us, hear us, and make judgments about us based on what we say and do.
I am certain that my colleagues who work with alternative or conditional admissions programs share my sentiments about the students I work with in LEOP. While I may not remember the minute details about each student, I do remember each face, name, and a piece of information each one shared with me. These students dreamed impossible dreams and step by step are making their dreams become reality. They faced tremendous “I can’t” circumstances but stared them in the face and overcame those challenges. These LEOP students are about to place “J.D.” behind their names like many others before them and embark on the journey to becoming lawyers.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman. Changing the world begins with changing your immediate universe. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
This is the week our students’ appellate briefs are due therefore I assumed that they would be unprepared for the directed study group meeting scheduled for this week. Instead of cancelling the meeting, I developed several activities with the materials students had covered thus far in their doctrinal course. The students were engaged and appeared to enjoy the activities. We highlighted areas they were unfamiliar with, areas they needed to work on, and areas of strength. Students worked in groups and one of the groups was composed of mostly male students and one female student. The female student held her own but one situation gave me pause. Her group was consulting before they buzzed in their answer. I heard her say the correct answer but her male counterparts disagreed and tried to persuade her otherwise. The group spokesperson stated the answer the majority agreed on but it was an incorrect answer. When they realized she had the correct answer, they were dumbfounded. I told the male students: “you should have listened to her” and I saw her smile. I was glad to validate her “correct” contribution and thought about the experiences of other female students.
At times, the law school environment can be a challenging place for female students for a variety of reasons including the fact that their abilities are sometimes underestimated and undervalued. This can reduce confidence in even the most confident person. There are several articles, studies, and news reports on the topic. However, I found an eight minute TEDx Talk which illustrates some of the challenges females face and how they can help themselves and other females find “The Confidence Factor.” Here is the link to “The Confidence Factor” by Carol Sankar.
Sankar suggests three things all women must do enact their confidence factor, challenging them to students, particularly female students:
1. Know the power of negotiation. If you know your worth before you leave the house; you now have the power of negotiate. Know your worth.
2. Seek a balance of support and mentorship. Support is the praise and comfort but not the facts. Mentorship is when people tell us the truth regardless of how we feel about what we hear; someone with the courage to push us and tell us the truth.
3. Your inner circle. Create an inner circle which includes one who likes you, one who can’t stand you, one who will tell the truth, and one who will tell you a lie. Also consider individuals not known to you. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Microaggression. Merriam Webster initially noted this word as “a term to watch” but added this word to the dictionary in February 2017. Microaggression as defined by Merriam Webster is “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who deal with microaggressions and aggressions that impact their ability to focus on academic work and impact their academic performance? I pose this question not because I have an answer but because this is a question I have asked myself lately.
It is quite difficult to be mentally present, engage with doctrinal content, and focus on tasks at hand while being concerned about what covert or overt actions will occur next or be directed towards you. The idea that one might have to contend with a racial or ethnic land mine at any time in a law school classroom or hallway is very daunting. A microaggressive comment from a professor during exam review can be devastating particularly when we encourage students to meet with professors to review exams and obtain feedback. There are a few articles addressing the impact of microaggressions on the recipient which highlight serious psychological effects.
Oftentimes, just reminding students of why they are in law school and encouraging them to not give up on a future legal career while having honest discussions about how they will manage these situations is usually a starting point. I spend time encouraging students to view these encounters as strengthening their abilities to deal with difficult situations while making them realize they are not alone. We discuss their feelings, anticipated accomplishments and consequences of each situation, and management of similar situations. I fundamentally view this process as an unwritten part of my job mainly because I am a person of color who was once a student of color. Silencing the loud voices of negativity when a student already has a few layers of self-doubt, and awakening and reminding students of the infinite reach of their abilities to view the world as a better place can be a struggle and long term process.
Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF). A term coined by William Smith in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society (2008) is “a theory attributed to the psychological attrition that People of Color experience from the daily battle of deflecting racialized insults, stereotypes, and discrimination.”i “RBF is the cumulative effect of being “on guard” and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.”ii
How do we, academic support professionals, support our students who have been microaggressed when we are managing our own instances of microaggressions and aggressions but also contending with Racial Battle Fatigue? I pose this question because I am curious about how other academic support professionals manage such situations.
To make a very long story short, I had a week filled with incidents that would fit the classic definition of microaggressions and some I would characterize as aggressions coming from various aspects of life in the span of five days. I was anxious and somewhat distracted, which is out of character for me, unfocused, and unhappy but tried to be positive but all efforts failed. I faced each situation, responding in various ways I deemed appropriate, sought the support of my circle of trust, and moved on. I usually do a good job not showing my frustrations. In retrospect, I did not realize how much these encounters impacted me.
Something amazing happened the following week; I found joy, passion, and energy because of the students. I received a number of kind notes, nice words, positive feedback about programs and presentations, and other expressions of appreciation. For someone who is accustomed to problem-solving, affirming students, acknowledging wrong doings, validating feelings, empowering students, and checking-in to ensure that all is well, I did not quite know what to do with myself. It was like the universe suddenly said: “everything is great; this is just a step in your journey.”
I often believe that I am on an island even though there are so many people that surround me. No one knows the many battles fought and won within the confines of the four walls of my office, on the island. What often keeps me going are moments when students make comments to me such as; your words or actions made a difference and changed my outlook when I was on the precipice of giving up and filled with tears. This brings back memories of individuals who did the same for me during moments of immense pressure and self-doubt. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
In February, some celebrate Black History Month but at our law college we celebrate Diversity Week. Diversity Week is a celebration of diverse aspects of our community and raises awareness of various issues affecting our law college community, surrounding communities, and the legal profession. Diversity week is celebrated for a full week in February and the theme this year is Pulse Check. This week of events and programs has allowed me to reflect on my past experiences as a black law student and on the manner in which I engage with law students generally and black law students specifically. I interact with black law students quite a bit by virtue of my community involvement and service to the law college. I serve as advisor to the Black Law Student Association, volunteer with affinity groups, and serve as an ASP professional. My black students hail from various states and countries and were raised in rural and urban settings. They are first generation college and law students. They are parents, immigrants, and children of immigrants. They have various political and social affiliations. In sum, I interact with a very diverse group of black law students.
Socio-cultural backgrounds do not always change the experiences they share which are similar to mine as a black law student. When I encountered challenges I thought unique to me as a black law student, I had very few individuals I could turn to for help navigating these experiences so I am glad to help others. I do not always have an answer but I can empower, encourage, and help students manage a variety of experiences. Some students experience stereotype threat through verbal or non-verbal interaction in class or with classmates who sometimes perceive a black student’s academic ability and intelligence as inferior. I have seen the brightest students have their confidence shaken by a comment or remark that attacks the core of who they are, minimizes what they bring to discussion, and delegitimizes the reasons why they are in the law school. Other black students never encounter this and appear to have very positive experiences so it is important to recognize that everyone has unique experiences.
I am lucky to be at an institution where our Diversity Officer is readily accessible and her office serves as a place where several students of color converge to meet, build community, and support one another. The Diversity Officer creates opportunities for students to discuss issues related to their experiences as students of color and possible challenges as legal professionals. All I have discussed here might seem unrelated to academic performance but it does have a significant impact. How students feel and the support networks they are able to develop are important. We are here to help students achieve their dreams which entail completing their legal education and passing the bar exam. We need to pay attention to the individual and each encounter is a possible transformative moment in the life of a student. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
At various points in a given semester, students find themselves unmotivated for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include managing financial pressures, dealing with academic challenges, feeling lonely, suffering from stress, and experiencing racism, sexism or some other “ism.” There are several articles and other sources that address intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to engage students. However, I am always seeking innovative ways to encourage and support students.
Monday marked the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017, an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Most institutions of higher education commemorate this day with a variety of activities. Institutions have a variety of programs which include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, artistic expressions, marches, community service, and speeches. Students attend the various programs but for others this is simply a day off and an opportunity to either rest or get ahead academically.
This year, I am an advisor to a student group and based on my interactions with this group of students, it was imperative for me to find different ways to re-motivate these students. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a great opportunity to encourage them by drawing examples from his life and encouraging students to partake in at least one activity. For students, there are a number of qualities and values they can draw from his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, an activist, a well-educated and accomplished man of color, his commitment to society, his ability to stay true to his convictions, and the ease with which he communicated, encouraged, and rallied those around him. Reflecting on all that he was able to accomplish with the challenges of his time, we should all be courageous in the face of adversity and preserve our hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
I recently returned from an excellent Legal Writing Institute One-Day Workshop at California Western which focused on diverse students in law schools. Leslie Culver of CWSL and I presented a session on Creating Models for K-20 Pipelines to Law School to Encourage Diverse Populations to Study Law. Inside Higher Ed posted an article on projections for diversity in high school graduates which may be of interest. The link is here. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, December 5, 2016
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Many of our law schools have exchange or L.L.M. foreign students enrolled in our courses. Our educational system (both undergraduate and legal) is very different from the educational backgrounds of many of these students. Adapting to the U.S. educational system is compounded by adapting to the U.S. legal system as well. It is not unusual for foreign students to tell me how very difficult the transition is for them.
I can empathize because I had to adjust to the British legal system and language when I cross-qualified as a solicitor for England and Wales - and I already spoke American English and came from a common law country! It was hard to think in two versions of English and make the mental switches to a very different common law legal system. Most of our foreign students are adjusting to an entirely different language and from civil law to common law!
A recent Inside Higher Education post addressed the participation in class aspect of the adjustment for foreign students. The post provides food for thought and practical tips as we try to help these students adjust to the very American emphasis on class participation. Read the post here: Helping Foreign Students Speak Up . (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Last week was the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Seattle University School of Law’s Access Admission Program, the Academic Resource Center, and Professor Emerita Paula Lustbader. I am an alumna of Seattle University and the few times I return to Seattle typically have something to do with Professor Lustbader. My cultural background dictates that I remember and honor those individuals who have paved the way for me. I look to them for guidance, wisdom, support, and history. For me, Professor Lustbader is one of these special individuals.
I started writing this entry prior to the celebration and surprisingly, the themes I identified aligned with the remarks and conversations at the celebration. The themes I had identified and those that emerged at the celebration included legacy, family/community, and paying it forward. I was excited to realize that I had it right but recognized that I could not include all of my observations.
In my opinion, Professor Lustbader is a pioneer of the Academic Support Movement. I imagine that very few formal academic support programs existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a student at the University of Puget Sound School of Law (now Seattle University School of Law), Paula Lustbader had a desire to promote diversity at the law school and in the legal profession. She was recruited by Professor Emeritus David Boerner and together, Professor Boerner and student Lustbader designed and began to implement the various components of their program. Today, Seattle University School of Law boasts of one of the few true “Access Admissions Programs” in the country which is not only a testament of the institution’s commitment to social justice and diversity but also a reflection of the commitment of Professors Boerner and Lustbader to this program. I can assure you that the story is more amazing and exciting than this but you had to have been at the celebration to capture the full story. Please follow this link for Professor Lustbader’s 2010 article about this program: here.
Professors can have a profound impact on the lives of their students particularly if they take the time to listen and pay attention to their students. Professors can sometimes perceive a student’s potential before the student can even conceive of her/his ability. This particularly happens when the learning environment lends itself for students to be their authentic selves which would indicate that trust has been established.
The presence of numerous former students and individuals who gathered to celebrate Professor Lustbader and the program is a testament to the positive impact the Access Admission Program and the Academic Resource Center have had on these students. In attendance were both students from the early years of the program and current students who just started their 1L year. Individuals flew in from as far as Hawaii, Texas, Michigan, and Florida just to list a few. Former teaching assistants, faculty, and staff who contributed in some way to the program were present. It was a joyous occasion that brought together individuals unified by the impact of two key individuals (Professors Boerner and Lustbader) and a shared experience with this program.
I feel very privileged to have gotten to know Professor Paula Lustbader as a professor, supervisor, mentor, and friend. She discovered my potential early on and challenged and supported me even when I resisted. I credit her for seeing the “Academic Support Educator” within me long before I thought of this as a career option. I look forward to the many amazing things she accomplishes in this next phase of her life.
The Anniversary Celebration has reenergized me, helped redefine my purpose, and led me to reassess my passion for the professional work I do. I am contemplating a number of things: What is our legacy as academic support professionals and educators? Do we constantly reinvent the wheel simply because we want to put our imprint on something or do we recognize when something works? Do we learn from those who came before us who fought and won the battles we now find ourselves trying to fight? Are some of us young and so too proud to ask for help and too "all knowing"? Are we truly an inclusive community that practices what we preach and embodies the ideals at the foundation of Academic Support Programs? Is it at the very least helpful to assess our own hang-ups and challenges? These are all pertinent questions I am asking myself and hope to connect with like-minded individuals to explore them. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, September 1, 2016
"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students" Say Researchers Walton and Cohen
Big hat tip to Professor Rodney Fong at the University of San Francisco School of Law for his alert to this research article!
It's not too late to make a difference…a real difference…a measurable difference…to improve academic performance and health outcomes for minority students, as demonstrated by the published research findings of Dr. Gregory M. Walton and Dr. Geoffrey L. Cohen at Stanford University in their article "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students."
Here's the scoop:
The researchers surmised that a brief intervention in the first week of undergraduate studies - to directly tackle the issue of belonging in college - might make a measurable impact with respect to academic performance and health outcomes for African-American students. As background, previous research had suggested that a lack of a sense of belonging was particularly detrimental for success in collegiate studies. In its most basic form, the intervention was threefold.
First, the university shared survey results with research participating students, substanting that most college students "had worried about whether they belonged in college during the difficult first year but [they] grew confident in their belonging with time."
Second, the participating students were encouraged to internalize the survey messages by writing an essay to describe "how their own experiences in college [in the first week] echoed the experiences summarized in the survey."
Third, the participating students created videos of their written essays for the express purpose of sharing their feelings with future generations of incoming students, so that participating students would not feel like they were stigmatized by the intervention (but rather that they were beneficially involved in making the collegiate world better for future generations of incoming students).
According to the researchers, surveys in the week following the intervention suggested that participating students sensed that the intervention buttressed their abilities to overcome adversities and enhanced their achievement of a sense of belonging. And, the impact was long-lasting, even when participating students couldn't recall much at all about the intervention.
The researches then used the statistical method of multiple regression to control for various other possible influences and to test for the impact of race. As revealed in the research article, the intervention was particularly beneficial for African-American students in terms of both improvements in GPA and improvements in well-being. In short, a brief intervention led to demonstrable benefits.
That brings us back to us ASPers!
With the start of the school year for ASPers, we have a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful interventions...by sharing the great news about social belonging. But, there's more involved than just sharing the news. Based on the research findings, to make a real difference for our students, our students must not see themselves - in the words of the Stanford researchers - as just "beneficiaries" of the intervention...but rather as "benefactors" of the intervention.
In short, our entering students must be empowered with tools to share with future generations what they learned about adversity, belonging, and overcoming…and how to thrive in law school.
Wow! What a spectacular opportunity…and a challenge…for all of us! (Scott Johns).
P.S. Here's the abstract to provide you with a precise overview of the research findings: "A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen’s sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health." Gregory M. Walton, et al, Science Magazine, 18 Mar 2011: Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1447-1451
Sunday, August 28, 2016
As an ASP educator, it is very important for me to work with other entities in the law school building and across campus to fully address student needs. For students to operate at an optimal level, many of their non-academic concerns need to be addressed as well. I often collaborate with our Diversity Services Office and our Office of Student Engagement on these matters. Recently, I had a very rich conversation with my colleague Mary Ferguson, Esq., Director of our Diversity Services Office. She asked me: “What about the gold medal student, what do we do for them?” I was not quite sure what to say and wondered if this was a specific reference to the Olympics that I completely missed or simply an analogy.
Given the puzzled look on my face, she explained that the “gold medal student” is the student of color who has excelled academically, the star student in every sense of the word whose academic achievement provided easy access to law school. This individual likely participated in every pipeline and support program since they were a child. This student excelled academically with the support services made available to them as a first generation, low income, and/or member of an underrepresented group. Many of these programs identify students early and include tutoring, structured programming, academic advising, activities, and access to employment and experiential learning opportunities. The “gold medal student” was sought out by the various programs but once they get to law school, they encounter new challenges.
Because “gold medal students” were so academically successful, they are grouped with other successful students based on GPA and LSAT. They are not at academic risk so they are not a part of programs tailored to support students characterized as such. They may also miss out on services and resources available to students of underrepresented groups or simply not avail themselves of these services. “Gold medal students” might only access services available to the student body as a whole, if at all. These students might need the same guidance, support, and structure the academically at risk students benefit from but don’t receive it because they are not a part of that group. This distinction might impact the students’ ability to excel academically because had they participated in those programs, it may have propelled them to success. These students might also have difficulty acclimating because they are often one of very few persons of color at their institution. We often wonder why a “gold medal student” might underperform academically when compared to their peers with similar entry credentials and when all statistical indicators show that they should perform comparably. The “gold medal student” becomes nothing more than an honorable mention.
This conversation really got me thinking. How do we identify or seek out this student? How do we provide them with the support they need which is different from what the general population needs? As I thought more, I realized that I have worked with “gold medal students” but it was typically after they had a rough first semester or first year. They were typically the students who would do what worked for them at their undergraduate institution and not make the adjustments for law school. They were the students who needed more structure and needed more purposeful interactions which were readily available at their undergraduate institution but they now had to seek out in law school. Once a good system is in place for these students, they are students who excel academically. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, March 11, 2016
Two articles of interest: A summary of the dispute and recent action in The Harvard Crimson An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education regarding a committee recommendation that Harvard Law change its seal after student protest because of its connection to a slave-owning family: Harvard Law School Seal
Monday, February 29, 2016
Below is a press release from Aaron Taylor, Director of LSSE, regarding the upcoming report release:
Sunday, February 28, 2016
For those who are following the Fisher case, the following article from The Chronicle of Higher Education may be of interest: Antonin Scalia's Death Probably Won't Affect Fisher
Monday, December 14, 2015
Several more articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education follow up on the oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Scalia's controversial remark, and thoughts on the case: Supreme Court Laments How Little It Really Knows About Race-Conscious Admissions; A Closer Look at a Comment by Justice Scalia; 'This Case Shouldn't Be Here' .
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on this race-conscious admissions case concerning Fisher's denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. See an article from yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education here: Chronicle Article on Fisher Case.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
On April 8th, 2015, law school students, administrators, faculty, academic support educators, and admissions officers along with members of the judiciary and leaders within the Law School Admissions Council congregated in a large hotel conference room within walking distance of the Las Vegas strip and a short bus ride from the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. They had a common purpose: to discuss how to work together to better meet the needs of our diverse law students. Dr. Terrell Strayhorn gave the keynote speech, an inspirational start to an energizing and thought-provoking three days. Below are my notes from his keynote speech and some of the themes that I took back to Rhode Island with me from the conference. I also have pasted some links below for those of you who wish to read more about the topics touched on in this blog. I have a lot more to learn, but this conference was a wonderful starting point for me, and a much-appreciated opportunity to deepen my understanding of my own diverse students. Much thanks to Kent Lollis, LSAC’s Executive Director of Diversity Initiatives, Rod Fong, Chair of the LSAC Diversity Retention Conference Planning Group, Professor Nancy Rappaport of UNLV, and many others for their hard work in providing this opportunity for all of us.
Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, a Professor of Higher Education at the Department of Educational Studies within Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, is also the Director of the Ohio State Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE).
During his keynote address, Dr. Strayhorn spoke about the need for students of color to feel that they “belong” to a community, to feel included. In his book, College Students Sense of Belonging, A Key to Educational Success for All Students, Dr. Strayhorn defines a “sense of belonging” as “a basic human need and motivation, sufficient to influence behavior. [It] refers to students’ perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the group (e.g., campus community) or others on campus (e.g., faculty, peers). It’s a cognitive evaluation that typically leads to an affective response or behavior.” According to Dr. Strayhorn, a “sense of belonging” is “relational” in that “members matter to one another and to the group,” and that “each member benefits from the group” and the “group benefits from the contributions of each member.”
This sense of “belonging” is an important factor in a diverse student’s potential for success, more significant than her LSAT score. A “sense of belonging” arises from both “structural” and “curricular” diversity. “Structural” diversity refers to the number of diverse students who are in a class overall & within each individual classroom. Curricular diversity refers to bringing both diverse and non-diverse students together in a meaningful way to discuss their experiences and perspectives. Cross-racial understanding comes from this curricular diversity. Simply having a number of diverse students in the classroom does not, by itself, facilitate inclusion. True inclusion involves interaction among students about their different perspectives and experiences. This “interactional diversity” is what impacts the student body. Many law faculty across the country, however, are unready to have these conversations. (See suggestions below)
If law schools do not bring students together to discuss their diverse experiences, cross-racial understanding and inclusion suffers because understanding and inclusion results from these interactions. A lack of conversations in law school classrooms about diverse perspectives among students is a missed opportunity to provide for a deeper sense of belonging for students of color. Students of color need to feel they belong to the community in which they learn. Curricular diversity engenders a sense of belonging, which, in turn, engenders self-efficacy among students of color.
For these conversations to facilitate understanding and inclusion there must be a sufficient number of students of color in the classroom for them to disagree with one another. The risk of having these conversations with too few students of color in the classroom is that these students feel they have to be the spokespersons for their entire race. In terms of structural diversity, law schools across the country still have a long way to go.
Dr. Strayhorn, and, in fact, every member of the panel on that first day, spoke about the importance of effective pipelines that reach deep into the diverse student community as early as middle school or preschool. In addition, he spoke about mentor programs for diverse students, and the need to enhance these programs by providing more oversight and training to the mentors about how to mentor a student. Mentors should not just meet a student for lunch to periodically “breathe on a student.” Rather, he spoke about three steps to being an effective mentor: 1) believe in the students and set high expectations for the students; 2) build character and invest in the students by providing specific strategies, sharing perspectives, and teaching them tools to achieve; and 3) push them to accomplish more (he called it “intrusive exposure”).
Once students of color decide to attend law school, and must choose which school to attend, they typically will view the law school’s website, but do not typically speak with staff or faculty about the law school. Instead, they choose to speak with people outside the law school, particularly family and friends. In fact, during his research, Dr. Strayhorn heard repeatedly from students of color that they chose to attend law school because they wanted to help their family by attaining a well-paying job to make money to give to their family. This family may include spouses and children, but also parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents or others. In addition, students of color may feel responsible for financially supporting their families while in law school. They have an aversion to taking out debt.
Feelings of belonging also impacted students’ choice of law school: Meaningful connections with law staff and faculty made a critical difference to students of color. Some sentiments that Dr. Strayhorn consistently heard when he asked students why they had chosen their law school was “it was the only law school where the faculty made time to get to know me,” or the staff had an “honest conversation with me about the strengths and challenges of each law school I had applied to.” They “cared about me.” They “helped me with my application.” “Something about the school felt like a family.” Very few students spoke of the law school’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report or the law school’s reputation. Students also rarely spoke about the alumni placement data, bar passage rates, library holdings.
Dr. Strayhorn’s final comments: Minorities are severely underrepresented in the legal profession. The legal profession should better reflect our society. A diverse workforce will make better decisions. Although some great pipeline programs exist, the critical problem facing law schools and diverse students is the lack of a preschool to undergraduate pipeline.
Kathryn Thompson, Director of Academic Success Program, Roger Williams Law School
Thursday, February 19, 2015
In a lot of respects, Legal Writers have struggled with (and sometimes overcome) the professional challenges many ASPers face. Professor Ralph Brill brings some of these to light in his response to a University's President's Frank Look at Law Schools. Professor Brill's response also briefly touches on the disparate impact to women when Legal Writing, and I submit ASP, is undervalued. Similarly, Professor Flanagan highlighted sexism in a blog post early this year. It is hard to believe that these are issues we are still grappling with in 2015.
Saturday, January 3, 2015
This semester has been eye-opening for me. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about sexism in ASP. Although I am a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue feminist, I've been lucky that I haven't faced much individual sexism (as opposed to institutional or systemic sexism, which are think are endemic to the academy). In the past, it's been one-off incidents, nothing that made me really question whether ASP fosters sexism. ASPs are predominantly run by untenured women, teaching in second-class rolls. While more men have joined our ranks, many of the (admittedly talented, committed) men that have been in ASP for more than 5 years have moved into tenured or high-level administrative positions, while I see equally talented, committed women stuck in the same second-class positions, without promotions or recognition, year after year.
I don't think this is solely due to institutional sexism. Studies have shown that women receive lower course evaluations than men. A tiny, needs-to-be-replicated study out of North Carolina State demonstrated that students will give higher course evaluations if they believe their instructor is a man--whether to not the instructor actually is a man or a woman. (See study here)
This semester I co-taught an ASP course with a fantastic, very talented male (tenured) professor. Mid-semester, we asked students to fill out qualitative evals, asking them to tell us what we should do and how to improve. While the majority of the surveys were helpful and fair, a disconcerting minority used the evaluations to make personal, sexist comments that had nothing to do with the substance of the course. Not one evaluation made personal comments about my male co-teacher.
I spoke with several experienced female professors after I read the evaluations. Everyone had a similar story; students feel it's okay to attack a female professor's attire, posture, hair style, or tone of voice in evaluations meant to measure teaching.
These attacks on female professors are damaging careers. Students evaluations are regularly used to renew contracts and earn tenure. The best administrators know to ignore these damaging comments in evaluations. But many evaluations are on a 1-5 scale, with female professors losing valuable points for things that have nothing to do with their ability to teach. And administrators can't distinguish between someone who needs help in the classroom, and someone who is receiving low scores because "their voice hurts my ears" or "their clothes are too bright for my taste."
ASP is integral to the success of the legal academy. It is time we started looking at the reasons why we are still second-class citizens.