by Chantal Jones
“Why are you interested in law schools? You are not a lawyer.”
My dissertation is a discussion with law school graduates and a continuation of the Educational Diversity Project (EDP), a study of U.S. law schools and diversity within a rampant anti-Affirmative Action climate. I approach this study of law schools from a series of realizations including: law schools admit students, advance curriculum, have specific pedagogical practices, cost tuition and other fees, and are sites of intense examination by scholars, media, practitioners, and even the Supreme Court. Law schools are an important topic in recent media, with headlines stating that law is the least diverse U.S. profession (Rhode, 2015). Law school graduates may become judges, educators, policy makers, and government leaders, specializing in a wide variety of topics far too numerous to list.
I further approach this study informed by Critical Race Theory (CRT), a central position through which I unpack and understand society. CRT, with important origins in legal scholarship, underscores the central importance of race and maintains that racism is a fact of U.S. society (Ladson-Billings, 1998). It seeks to:
…understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America, and, in particular, to examine the relationship between that social structure and professed ideas such as the “rule of law” and “equal protection”. (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995, p. xiii)
Further, CRT seeks “not merely to understand the vexed bond between law and racial power but to change it” (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995, p. xiii). Critical race theorists identify higher education institutions as sites where racial power is produced. As Lori D. Patton (2016) states:
Throughout history, nearly every governmental leader attended college and law school or some other post baccalaureate training. Most if not all attended elite, private institutions. The majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices attended Harvard and Yale Universities, and many of their decisions are cloaked in racist ideologies that disenfranchise racially marginalized groups. That so many leaders entered higher education and graduated without being prompted or encouraged to examine race and racism is reflective of how colleges fail in educating students to live, work, and interact across differences for racial equity. (p. 319)
My colleagues Walter Allen, Channel McLewis, and Daniel Harris, and I utilized CRT to investigate Black student enrollment and degree completion between 1976 and 2015 at public, four-year institutions within the 20 states with the largest Black populations. Further, we narrow to three institutional types: the flagship, the historically white Black-serving institution, and the Historically Black College and University. In summary, we found that:
…higher education remains a site of intense racial struggle for African American students. Across institutions we see various trends: the number of African American students at flagships has declined, more students enroll and complete degrees at black-serving institutions, and historically black colleges and universities are more racially diverse. (Allen, McLewis, Jones, & Harris, 2018, p. 41)
The contexts of particular states are especially important to highlight, as many in the sample faced desegregation cases and Supreme Court cases challenging Affirmative Action. The effects of colorblindness, merit, claims of reverse racism fuel these challenges, as seen in the examples of California’s Proposition 209, Michigan’s Proposal 2, the University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978), Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013, 2016), to name a few. Such ideologies are pervasive, as a Gallup poll shows that 65 percent of the public disagree with the Supreme Court ruling allowing race to be considered in admissions decisions (Newport, 2016; Jaschik, 2016). Those surveyed also revealed a strong disagreement with the utilization of factors including socioeconomic status, first-generations status, and gender. High school coursework, grades, and standardized test scores were, unsurprisingly, deemed appropriate considerations.
Returning to the opening question, my dissertation is an extension of the EDP, which examines race and educational diversity across U.S. law schools. Launched immediately after Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), which centered the University of Michigan Law School, EDP surveyed over 8,000 first year law students at 68 American Bar Association (ABA) law schools across the U.S. in 2004 and again in 2007, during their third and final year. The project also interviewed a sample of 200 law students during their first, second, and third years in law school. Rich stories from earlier waves of data collection inspire follow up inquiries.
A final story
In addition to my observations of rampant anti-Affirmative Action rhetoric and action and exposure to the EDP, I also came to be interested in this work through the Clark County Office of Diversity (OOD), whose focus is on fair employment laws. My first job was a summer internship with OOD.
At this internship, I began to understand intersectionality, key to CRT, though it would be many years later that I would read the scholarship of Kimberle Crenshaw. In this space, I realized the impact of law and policy on individuals and understood that we must “account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed” (Crenshaw, 1995, p. 358).
Chantal Jones is a PhD candidate in Higher Education and Organizational Change. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Arizona State University, Master of Education from the University of Southern California, and Master of Arts in education from UCLA. Chantal’s research centers on higher education, Critical Race Theory, and qualitative methodologies. Her dissertation looks to law schools and graduates in the era of Supreme Court decisions, including Grutter v. Bollinger and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, and is currently titled Law Graduates into the Future: The Educational Diversity Project. She was the recipient of the CSW’s Paula Stone Legal Research Fellowship in 2018.
Allen, W. R., McLewis, C., Jones, C., & Harris, D. (2018). From Bakke to Fisher: African American students in U.S. higher education over forty years. In S. T. Gooden & S. L. Myers Jr. (Eds.), The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report (41-72). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Crenshaw, K. (1995). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (Eds.), Critical Race Theory: Key Writings that Formed the Movement (357-383). New York: The New Press.
Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1995). Introduction. In Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (Eds.), Critical Race Theory: Key Writings that Formed the Movement (xiii-xxxii). New York: The New Press.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin 570 U.S. __ (2013)
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin 579 U.S. __ (2016)
Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)
Jaschik, S. (2016, July 8). Poll: Public opposes affirmative action. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/07/08/poll-finds-public-opposition-considering-race-and-ethnicity-college-admissions
Patton, L. D. (2016). Disrupting postsecondary prose: Toward a critical race theory of higher education. Urban Education, 5(3), 315-342. doi: 10.1177/0042085915602542
Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 7-24. doi: 10.1080/095183998236863
Newport, F. (2016, July 2). Most in the U.S. oppose colleges considering race in admissions. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/193508/oppose-colleges-considering-race-admissions.aspx
Office of Diversity. (2015). Office of diversity: About us. Retrieved from http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/diversity/Pages/About.aspx
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)
Rhode, D. L. (2015, May 27). Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/27/law-is-the-least-diverse-profession-in-the-nation-and-lawyers-arent-doing-enough-to-change-that/?utm_term=.580a234b4954