Diversity Works and Diversity Matters

Written by Andrea Curcio

A multi-year empirical study presents evidence that a diverse law student body combined with intergroup contact makes a verifiable difference in law students’ exposure to a diversity of ideas and perspectives and decreases law students’ endorsement of racially prejudiced attitudes.  An initial report of the study, The Educational Diversity Project: Analysis of Longitudinal and Concurrent Student and Faculty Data:  LSAC Grants Report Series, can be found at:   http://www.lsac.org/LSACResources/Research/GR/GR-10-01.pdf

This report is fascinating and a “must-read” for all those who are working to get their admissions office, and the academy, to increase enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds.  It also lays the groundwork to extend Grutter beyond its 25 year window.

The report sets forth some initial findings based upon surveys of incoming and graduating law students and student focus groups.  The survey of incoming law students, administered to over 8,000 students at 64 law schools, contained questions covering a wide range of demographic background information, information about lifetime experiences, sociopolitical attitudes, educational expectations and career aspirations.  A follow up study of  approximately 1,600 law graduates asked questions about: law school work experience; law school activities; the respondents’ law school experience; experience in law school with people from different backgrounds; whether issues of race and social justice were present during the learning process; students’ attitudes and attributes on a variety of different social and political issues; self-ratings about personality type and mental health issues; and career aspirations and employment.

The report discusses some of the authors’ preliminary findings about how race/ethnicity relate to: differences in students’ backgrounds, attitudes and belief systems and expectations at the start of law school; differences in students’ academic experiences, personal burdens and resources and professional aspirations during law school; and, changes in students’ perceptions about the importance of diversity in an educational setting and students’ individual prejudicial beliefs.

Although the report has a lot of interesting data, I found the following to be amongst the most important findings:  the authors hypothesized that controlling for student background characteristics and initial attitudes, the racial diversity of a student’s law school, combined with a student’s intergroup contact during law school, would increase their law school’s diversity of ideas and decrease law students’ endorsement of racially prejudicial attitudes.  The data supports this hypothesis.

The study’s investigators include: UNC law professor Charles Daye and UNC Psychology Professor Abigail Panter, UCLA Sociology Professor Walter R. Allen, and Dr. Linda F Wightman [the principal investigator of the LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study.]  The study’s authors are in the midst of polishing a law review article that they will submit for publication in the spring.  In the meantime, I encourage all of you to read this report and share it with your colleagues as well as with your law school admissions office and admissions committee.