Thursday, February 27, 2014
Teri McMurtry-Chubb (Mercer), guest blogs today in response to Lisa McElroy (Drexel), Are Legal Writing Professors Like Nurses? Professor McMurty-Chubb serves as a member of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) Board of Trustees, and Chair of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) Diversity Initiatives Committee.
In the lodestar history of African American female nurses, Black Women In White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950 (Indiana University Press, 1989), Darlene Clark Hine discusses the racism Black nurses encountered in their professionalization as nurses. Hines' work is a sweeping tome that chronicles the hurdles Black nurses faced not only in caring for members of their communities, but also from the white women who shared their profession. Although Hines' work is an historical study, history oft repeats itself. A little over a year ago, in February 2013, an African American female nurse filed a lawsuit against Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan after a new father (white) gave orders to her charge nurse that he did not want any Black nurses caring for his white baby (link to news story here: ). White nurses, however, were welcome. It seems that not all nurses are created equal.
As it is in nursing, so too it is in the academy. A 2002 study in the Chronicle of Higher Education stated that 39% of all full-time professors are women. Of this percentage 8% are African American and Hispanic women. See Black Professors On The Track. Recent works chronicling the experiences of these women, such as the highly praised Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Utah State University Press, 2012), note that professors of color are isolated in university communities and lack allies in white women who wholeheartedly take up gendered battles, but shy away from those where race and gender collide in the bodies of their sisters of color. Of the 39% of women employed full-time in the academy, just over half are employed as instructors or lecturers. This necessarily means that African American and Hispanic women are represented disproportionately at the lower levels of employment status. A study published in 2003 by Deborah Jones Merritt and Barbara F. Reskin reported that 30.3% of tenure-track positions at law schools were occupied by white women as compared to 7.6% by women of color, New Directions for Women in the Legal Academy, 53 J. Legal Educ. 489 (2003), which brings us back to legal writing.
The experiences of women legal writing professors are not all the same. Women of color law professors who teach legal writing have a deeply textured, multi-layered experience in which privilege, power, and status operate differently than in the lives of white women law professors who teach legal writing. White women in the legal academy must build bridges to us, acknowledge our differences, and address how we can all advance together. If, as female law professors of color who teach legal writing, we are like Black nurses, then our white sisters in the academy must acknowledge their own race privilege as an impediment to our collective progress.