National Jurist - March 2011 - 30
Most Diverse Law Schools
Law schools have taken years to build diverse student bodies, providing students with more opportunities, a better education and classes more reflective of the world.
By Rebecca Larsen
imberly Banks MacKay chose to follow her father’s footsteps and attend Rutgers School of Law-Newark, which offered a special program for minorities. Her father, Cecil Banks, had been in the same Minority Student Program in 1976, and she had seen the advantages and the support from classmates and administrators. “To this day, the friends I made in the Minority Student Program reach out to one another,” she said. “I was referred to my first in-house job by an MSP student. I was referred for a federal clerkship by MSP administrators. The Minority Student Program transformed the face of the legal profession in New Jersey.” The 1995 graduate is now executive director and senior pharmaceuticals counsel for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. MacKay is just one of many lawyers who benefited from attending a diverse law school. The theory is that the more diversity of students in a law school classroom, the more viewpoints there are. The more voices that are raised, the better education that lawyers will have. “I believe diversity did matter in my constitutional law class,” said Elisa Cervantes, a 2010 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law. “With a diverse class, people seemed more willing to express their opinions. And if they didn’t do it in class, they did it later on a message board that we had.” Still some studies, like a recent one from Columbia University, argue that the pace of acceptance of some minority groups into
law schools is not keeping up with the growing capacity at those schools. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that over the past 40 years many law schools have significantly improved their enrollment numbers from varying racial groups, income levels, national origins and both sexes. None of this increase in diversity happened overnight. Schools that now rank at the top in attracting minorities worked a long time to get where they are now — spending was diverted or specially raised to provide staff and scholarships. The University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, for example, began investing more in attracting minority students more than 20 years ago; the University of New Mexico started its efforts in the early 1970s. Rutgers-Newark was one of the first law schools to tackle the issue. It began its Minority Student Program in 1968 in response to the Newark riots. In the 10 years before the program began, only 12 AfricanAmericans were admitted to the law school. In contrast, last year, 29 African-Americans graduated. The law school class that entered last fall included 41 percent who were people of color. But not all were part of MSP, which usually has 75 to 80 students participating each year. About 2,500 members of MSP have now graduated from Rutgers-Newark, a number that includes judges, legislators, presidential and gubernatorial appointees, mayors and many other
PHOTO BY MICHAEL FALCO
THE NATIONAL JURIST