January 25, 2024

Creating More Supportive Law School Environments for Professors and Students of Color

Diversity Programs


Program: Unsolicited Grants Program
Grantee: American Bar Foundation
Grant Amount: $87,140

This study used critical race theory and indigenous theory, in combination with linguistic anthropological methods, to center the voices and perspectives of traditionally marginalized professors. It was designed to provide U.S. law schools with empirical evidence on sources of continuing structural and cultural bias that has prevented development of more supportive environments for faculty of color, who are key sources for students of color. The researchers compiled a database of law professors’ written autobiographies and career interviews. Furthermore, they conducted an in-depth exploration of professional experiences with six study participants by examining teaching, conference presentations, and Zoom materials.

Preliminary findings suggest that professors from traditionally underrepresented groups often experience continuing marginalization in their law schools. Faculty of color describe an absence of substantive verbal response to ideas and suggestions for changed voice in formal faculty settings. Alternatively, they may experience “polite” agreement with no follow-through action. Faculty of color also report being told that their comments are inappropriate when they attempt to comment on problematic aspects of their law school environments.

Law professors of color can encounter numerous barriers to having their voices heard – or even to speaking up at all. Solutions to this issue will have to address deeply rooted structures that include norms around speech and language. Hiring and retaining a critical mass of professors of color is a vital step, but beyond that, the voices of those professors need to have palpable effects and receptive audiences if U.S. law schools wish to build more inclusive cultures.

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