Friday, October 22, 2021
Nancy B. Rapoport, Being a “First” – Over and Over Again, Denver L. Rev. Forum (7/31/2021).
In this article, Professor Nancy Rapoport discusses the challenges inherent in, and lessons learned from, being a “first.” Professor Rapaport has been a first “several times over.” She was a “first woman law dean at the University of Nebraska College of Law, the first woman law dean at the University of Houston Law Center, [and] the first woman law dean at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.” Being a first means often being judged based on stereotypes related to “gender, but also . . . racial, ethnic, political, and religious groups (to name but a few categories).”
In light of the trials characteristic of being a “first,” Professor Rapoport provides a number of “best practices” in this article for those who find themselves being a “first.” These best practices include “figur[ing] out why someone is reacting to you in a given way before you choose how to respond.” Sometimes, as Professor Rapoport states, it is just not about you. Sometimes it is “people . . . reacting to you because you’re the “first” something (woman, person of color, academic, etc.).” That is, people are “reacting to you or to the image of you that comes from a stereotype.” Additionally, “it is perfectly fine to name [the] behavior” of a person reacting to you because you’re the “first.” Indeed, “[s]ometimes, just asking the question politely can change the other person’s behavior.” Professor Rapoport also encourages showcasing different leadership styles by diversifying the leadership team and, relatedly, finding potential leaders and mentoring/sponsoring those individuals.
In the end, “[b]eing a ‘first’ can be both exhilarating and scary.” For those who are “firsts,” Professor Rapoport suggests “finding your own way to leave an institution better than you found it. And lean[ing] on other people who have been ‘firsts’ (and those who haven’t) to help you succeed.”