LAW SCHOOL FACES DIVERSITY CHALLENGES

April 21, 2008 at 3:50 am Leave a comment

Eduardo Gonzalez / Adelante
Volume II, Issue 2 (March 2008)

Although the School of Law at the University of Texas at Austin takes pride as one of the most diverse programs in the nation, challenges to its efforts remain.

Often in the public eye because of its minority participation, the law school has made national headlines for its excellence in promoting diversity among it staff, faculty and student body, but also for debatable incidents of racial insensitivity by some students. This raises questions about whether that environment and culture are diverse enough intellectually, which requires development beyond numbers and intermingling, some students and faculty said.

In the last ten years the number of minority faculty at the School of Law has remained relatively constant, according to an online report from the UT Office of Information Management and Analysis. The latest figures available from Fall 2006 showed the school as having nine Hispanic professors, two are tenured, seven black professors and two Asian professors, making up 12 percent of the 149-member faculty. The remaining 131 professors, 87.9 percent, were white.

Carla L. Sanchez, a second-year law student, said having minority law professors allows minority law students to have someone to whom to relate.

“Professors bring their own experiences to the table and there is a point of view to express,” she said. “If you have a diverse faculty, you’ll have different points of view because as lawyers, we’ll have clients from different backgrounds and these points of view will help us understand the needs of our clients.”

Minority law professors can also serve as role models , said Daniel B. Rodriguez, one of two tenured Hispanic professors at the law school.

“There is something in common across the spectrum of minority law teachers that provides a real perspective on what it is like to be in the out group in American society,” he said. “I think it is important to have minority law professors for that experience.”

But numbers alone cannot give an accurate picture of efforts to enhance the minority experience.
“The administration has made an effort to sponsor a lot of activities,” said Yuridia Caire, a second-year law student and Internal Vice President of Chicano-Hispanic Law Students Association. “They have helped minorities with money, time, support and workshops.”

Diversity efforts do, however, meet another challenge, students said.

“I don’t think this is intentional, but people tend to hang around with people of their own race,” Sanchez said.

Rodriguez refers to it as “unintentional segregation.”

“Minority students only hang out with minority students and that tendency can reinforce the image of them being off in their own corner doing other things,” he said. “One of the challenges I see is getting out of that box and being in a more generally diverse community without sacrificing the camaraderie that comes from minority students.”

Although not forgetting one’s heritage is important, Rodriguez said he encourages minority students to join different types of organizations, not simply those that are culture-specific.

Some students and faculty also question whether resources to encourage students to become culturally literate and to `intermingle are provided.

“As the world becomes more globalized,” Rodriguez said. “American law schools need a diverse work force for legal practice with more ambitious efforts to really diversify the interest of our students to prepare them.”

Law School numbers

Click to enlarge.

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Entry filed under: March 2008 issue. Tags: , .

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