After giving a talk on “Teaching in Times of Uncertainty,” I decided to write an essay that more closely reflected my personal experiences in the legal academy during the past two years: “Teaching in the Midst of Trauma.” As an African-American woman, who had just lost my mother (for whom I had been a caregiver in my home for ten years) and moved academic institutions (after fifteen years at a former institution), while teaching in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and racial and social justice unrest, I wanted to sound the alarm! We are NOT fine! We are physically and mentally exhausted—walking shells of our happy, hopeful, efficient former selves. I decided to write this essay because I was quite aware that I was not fine and suspected that many of my students and my colleagues were not either.
To be clear, I heard lots of talk about self-care, but those conversations seemed disproportionately centered in the lower ranks of the profession—newer lawyers, untenured faculty, law school staff, and our students. Our leaders, ever mindful of their positions at the helm of their various institutions and organizations, were still dedicated to powering through and getting the job done. This is the mark of the legal profession: we are society’s problem solvers and thought leaders. We do not have time to emote and “turtle.” It’s almost a mantra: we must continue to work and educate because many are relying on us.
To that end, I noticed an almost frantic attempt by many people in the academy to pretend that we were fine. These attempts went beyond my institution’s doors: it was palpable on the listservs of which I was a member, and it was equally so in the greater media. Law faculty all wanted to be fine, but we were not. We were living during a pandemic and some pretty interesting political times, accompanied by palpable racial tensions. And if you were fortunate, there were no other traumatic events occurring in your life.
My legal writing students were experiencing the first year of law school (with its myriad changes and challenges) during all the other traumatic occurrences that were swirling around us all. They were in the midst of TRAUMA (yes, I’m screaming) too! This realization led me to begin thinking of some ways to modify my teaching to address the fact that we were existing in traumatic times.
This essay is rather a cautionary tale. It begins by discussing the propensity of attorneys and law professors to simply “push through” challenging events, responding slowly, ineptly, or not at all. Next, it explains why, this time, we must respond differently, as if our very lives depend on it. Beyond our individual lives, our livelihood—the legal profession—absolutely does depend on our responding differently. Then, this essay discusses the minoritized members of the legal profession, the legal academy, and its students and how the traumatic events of the last two years affected them. Finally, the essay highlights the steps I took inside (and sometimes outside) my classroom to ensure that my students acknowledged the trauma that they were suffering and moved through it in a way to develop skills that would make them better students and, ultimately, better attorneys.
I. We’re Not Fine, But What Does It Matter?
Science says that in order to change a thing, we must first acknowledge it. Despite all our best efforts to normalize the unprecedented (I now hate using that word) times in which we live, we must acknowledge that very thing: the unprecedented times in which, and difficult circumstances under which, we currently live. And, most importantly, we must acknowledge that we are NOT fine! The enormous pains that so many of us have taken to ignore it all might have produced the most trauma, so we must acknowledge it. We are stressed and stretched to our limits. And if we do not acknowledge that stress, it (and not Covid-19 directly or some police officer or gunman’s bullet) is going to be the death of us.
We all know that stress is a contributing factor to many of modern society’s illnesses. What could be more stressful than living through a pandemic—watching loved ones grapple with a Covid diagnosis, grappling with a diagnosis ourselves, and turning on a dime to become remote workers, professors, or students when mandatory lockdowns became necessary—while being bombarded with daily reminders that our democracy is tenuous and Black lives are being lost daily to police violence, all while trying to address normal work-life balance issues? And yet, I have observed an almost dogged determination to push through these unprecedented times and all the stressors they bring as if they did not exist. We did everything that we always did—we just did it remotely. Despite the absence of childcare, we taught or attended our classes, we held meetings. And as soon as it was determined to be minimally safe, we returned to our buildings, though many did not have childcare, some were immuno-compromised, and others were just plain scared to death of exposing their family members to the deadly virus. There were so many risks that we were taking, all in the name of pushing through. This, I opine, is to the detriment of so much—our physical and mental health and that of our students, as well as our profession.
A. The Perfect Storm: The Covid-19 Pandemic, along with Political and Social Justice
The Covid-19 pandemic, along with coinciding political and social justice concerns, presents a unique opportunity for us to get it right and do it differently. This opportunity is especially important because of the generational considerations with which we are currently being presented. Much has been written about the current students who are being educated in law school classrooms, Generation Z. Of their generational markers, perhaps the most highly touted characteristics are their “strong beliefs, distaste for traditional norms, and expectations for equity and representation.” Based on what we know about these students, we simply cannot proceed as usual. Indeed, even if we don’t want better for ourselves, the Gen Z student will demand more of us. Unsurprisingly, these students tend to admit their human frailty, and therefore, will be unwilling to persist in some of the cycles in which the profession seems to be steeped. At a minimum, they want their voices heard. And they want their voices to matter, especially as it pertains to social justice issues. They do want to succeed, but not at the cost of their own physical and mental health.
It is uncontroverted that the last two years have been traumatic for many in (and outside) the legal profession. We would be remiss if we did not use our trauma as a catalyst for change. Scholars are calling for reforms in legal education in light of all that has transpired in the past two years. They submit that advancements in technology and the academy’s ability to use them to give our students meaningful experiences while quarantined in our homes support such reforms. For me, the adjustments that I made to my classroom instruction were small, but effective. I learned well from the turbulence of the last two years, even if we—practicing lawyers and academics alike—as a profession did not. Furthermore, I quickly began to apply what I learned (first by acknowledging the effects of the trauma of the last two years) and shared it with my students to push them further along the continuum of becoming better students and future attorneys in the evolving landscape of today’s society.
B. The Legal Profession’s Reaction to Traumatic Events
Historically, the legal profession has lagged behind other professions in addressing various societal and professional challenges, like racism, addiction, gender bias, and pay equity. We tend to overthink the issue, normalize it, and move on without effectively addressing it. That has led to continued homogenic, monolithic legal institutions despite the changing demographics of the United States.
1. The History
Raymond H. Brescia, in his article, Lessons from the Present: Three Crises and Their Potential Impact on the Legal Profession, recounts a plethora of instances in which the legal profession had an opportunity to “fix itself,” but failed to do so. Brescia explains,
[E]vents such as the Watergate scandal; the Savings & Loan Crisis; the impeachment of President Clinton and his subsequent suspension from the practice of law; the Enron scandal; the detention and torture of enemy combatants in Iraq and the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; the events that led to the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the foreclosure crisis that followed all represent a few such examples where a crisis led to calls for reform of the legal profession.
Additionally and undeniably, for countless years, the legal profession has been aware that the profession lacks diversity. It has struggled with the problem, perhaps at times hoping that it would just go away, but it has not. Similarly, pay and gender equity issues persist. Nevertheless, we continue—with our careers, with our lives outside of those careers—without any measurable change. Again, now at the apex of the Covid pandemic and social justice and political crises, we have an opportunity to do things a bit differently. But will we?
2. Our Reaction to Covid-19
Despite the legal profession’s resistance to technology, when the Covid-19 pandemic led to a global shutdown in February 2020, attorneys were able to adopt and utilize technology to deliver legal services virtually (pun intended) uninterrupted. While some areas of practice may have shrunk, others grew during the pandemic. Notably, law school applications, which were on the rise pre-pandemic, continued to increase. It seemed like we would and could proceed like “business as usual.”
The same was true in our law schools. By necessity and with little time to establish emergency procedures, every ABA-accredited law school went completely online. In the space of a week—for many of us, it was Spring Break—we went from the formality of our classrooms to the more relaxed atmosphere of Zoom, Skype, etc. Law school instruction, particularly in law school clinics, continued uninterrupted through the use of technology. Similarly, pro bono and community service opportunities were also presented in an online format. Thus, institutions were able to keep their students safe while still servicing the nearby community through the clinics.
We saw this new normal and decided to capitalize on it. Those staff members who may have been furloughed because they were not needed, were not brought back. In law practice, in-person depositions are probably a thing of the past. In law schools, in-person faculty meetings are no longer necessary, nor are in-person classes or client meetings in law clinics. The time and cost savings were undeniable and could be passed along from firm to client. And though the cost savings were not as tangible in legal education, undoubtedly, there were time savings for the professor, as well as the student, who could teach or work remotely. Clinicians certainly appreciated the flexibility to service more clients, without requiring them to travel to the law schools, which would benefit the client as well as the supervising attorney and student. We were, once again, able to move effortlessly through yet another crisis without addressing underlying, pre-existing issues in the profession—seemingly.
But this time, there was an accompanying maelstrom of political and social justice unrest to go along with the global pandemic. While stuck in their homes, legal professionals, as well as educators and their students, were forced to witness the racial injustice that persons of color had been aware of and had suffered for ages. And they wanted to do something different. In her article, Legal Education’s Curricular Tipping Point Toward Inclusive Socratic Teaching, Jamie R. Abrams notes that this unique combination of events “present[s] a pedagogical tipping point that compels action.” Indeed, a new generation of students was watching closely to see how the legal academy responded. Recognizing our status as “knowledge brokers” and “thought leaders,” our students expected us to present some “knowledge” or “thoughts” about what was happening all around us. They expected us to be attuned to the current situation! They begged us to acknowledge their pain, our own pain! And yet, collectively we would not. We continued to move forward as if we were not in the middle of the first pandemic in more than a century! And I almost did too. . . .
Abrams described the term “tipping point” as “a unique window in which the ‘beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people are engaged,’” such that conversion to a new idea can “‘spread like an epidemic, bringing about fundamental change very quickly.’” Ultimately, Abrams contends that the academy is in a unique position where there is “momentum for productive and lasting disruption” in legal education status quo.
We dare not lose this momentum. While we should not forget the mantra, we must modify it: There is still work to be done and there are still students to educate, but we must address our human fragility and that of the world around us—because if we persist in the pattern of normalizing trauma and ignoring watershed events, the legal profession, which includes the legal academy, will miss its moment. (Cue Eminem’s song, “Lose Yourself,” in which the reprise talks about not missing the young rapper’s “one shot” to succeed.) We stand at an opportune time to address some of legal education’s educational and social ills. We cannot miss this opportunity to become a more diverse, culturally competent, forward-thinking profession.
C. Effects of the Pandemic on Minorities (Generally and in the Legal Academy)
Generally, the pandemic is reported to have highlighted existing inequities in the United States. As noted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[l]ong-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” In their article, Legal Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Put Health, Safety and Equity First, Catherine J.K. Sandoval and her co-authors recount that “[h]ospitalization for COVID-19 infection [was] more than three times more likely for Latinx Americans and Native Americans, and African-Americans than for White [non-Hispanic] Americans;” and “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors,” and “nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people.”
In terms of work-life balance, we see similar effects in minoritized and marginalized members of the populations. Because of the pandemic, many of us could no longer separate our work and family lives, chiefly because we were working from home. Those of us who were caregivers, mostly women, bore the brunt of long days of virtual teaching, meetings about teaching, and other law school obligations while caring for young (or not so young) children as well as elderly family members or friends. This was the case even more so amongst minoritized women.
According to many in higher education, “‘COVID-19 is the thing most [adversely] impacting student success,’” and “[t]he resulting psychological stress and health concerns have detrimentally affected students, faculty, and staff.” More specifically, in the legal academy, there were greater adverse effects on its minoritized and marginalized populations. For example, many faculty/staff members with traditionally high student-contact positions were particularly impacted as they had to figure out quickly how to deliver services to those students. And as the pandemic wore on, oftentimes those faculty/staff members were the people who had to support the students emotionally as pandemic restrictions and upheaval dragged on. Leading the effort to deliver instruction and support to our students came with a price, inasmuch as many of these same faculty/staff members were already heavily “taxed” at home. The most important marker of achievement in our profession, our scholarship, suffered.
Our law students also suffered. While attending class virtually and studying at home seemed like a wonderful idea for some students, home was not always the best place to learn. For some, family and relationship dynamics made it unsafe or stressful to learn and study at home. For others, economic and technology disadvantages made it difficult to enjoy any benefits of learning remotely. In fact, pre-pandemic statistics bear out that our students are struggling with anxiety, depression, alcohol, and drug use (abuse). Unrelated to Covid, a large majority, 85%-90%, of our students report having experienced some trauma. Again, minoritized and marginalized student populations experienced more of these negative effects than their majority colleagues.
1. Minoritized Law Students
Minoritized students often suffer trauma simply by being students of color in law school—an institution, like many in America, which was founded without their existence in mind and refuses to reform to acknowledge their diverse needs today. “Thirty-one percent of enrolled law students are students of color, reflecting a steady upward trajectory in the aggregate.” Notably, Black women student enrollment is twice that of Black male students. Sadly, despite this “statistical advantage,” “women of color report more negative experiences in law school than their male peers when measured by their overall satisfaction” and they are more likely to contemplate “withdrawing from school compared to all other categories of students.” Further, although the aggregate number of students of color has risen in the last few years, Black student enrollment has trended down.
During the pandemic, stress levels of all students increased, but it seems that those levels skyrocketed for students of color. As if it were not already difficult enough to exist in these “white spaces,” rife with racial tension, the additional stress of their health and that of their family weighed heavily on minoritized law students. Family income loss, and the accompanying food and housing insecurity, disproportionately impacted people (including law students) of color. In turn, this disproportionate impact increased stress levels in minoritized populations.
Stress has many negative impacts: physical effects on the body, mental effects on the mind, behavioral, and emotional effects. Most relevantly, a stressed student has trouble with retention of information—something that is critical to success in law school. So an already vulnerable law student population was further negatively impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
2. Minoritized Professors
Under normal circumstances, minoritized faculty “face barriers in recruitment, retention, and culture and climate.” Abrams notes that “[t]oday, [minoritized] faculty . . . comprise less than 15% of university faculty.” Those barriers oftentimes cause greater stress as we seek to navigate the legal academy.
During Covid-19, minoritized faculty were isolated from their colleagues and mentors, which led to greater impacts on our teaching and scholarship. As noted above, minoritized scholars, especially women, oftentimes had family or caregiving responsibilities that necessitated that teaching and scholarship become secondary or even lower priority. In addition, we were inundated by media accounts of the racialized incidents occurring throughout the United States and we were on the front lines counseling our students and working to develop racial justice curricula and programming for them. This all led to incredible stress with little respite as we had lives to live, students to teach, and—not to forget—scholarship to produce.
And so, we too soldiered on. Our institutions demanded it. Even the attempts to acknowledge our pain were arguably ineffective. As noted in section I.B. above, working from home was not a respite. There, our professional obligations were merely added to our home-related ones. Further, as Dean Onwauchi-Willig notes, the tolling of tenure timelines will have a disproportionately negative effect on women and minoritized populations. With delayed tenure, minoritized professors’ earning potential will suffer as well.
II. Our Way Forward
A. The Big Picture
In her article, The Covid Care Crisis and Its Implications for Legal Academia, Cyra Akila Choudhury, mentions the “rush to return to prepandemic normal” of many despite the spikes in infection rates and the variants that seemed to pop up inevitably. She and other scholars speak about the need to proceed with caution lest we move too quickly, without introspection and thought about necessary adjustments to the academy. Choudhury cautions that we need “responsive innovation.” During the pandemic, we changed because our students needed us to do so. We also changed for ourselves; otherwise, we would have “flamed out.”
It is uncontroverted that “[l]aw schools are charged with providing an ethical and rigorous legal education that trains students to serve the profession and the community.” However, there is some disagreement regarding the pedagogy (née andragogy) that we should use to do so. Recently, perhaps as a result of the pandemic and the social and political upheaval that was occurring at the same time, there has been great discussion and movement around curricular changes in legal education. For example, the American Bar Association, the accrediting body for law schools, changed its standards to require more experiential learning, as well as more recently to require cultural competency be an outcome of legal education. In her article, Legal Education’s Curricular Tipping Point Toward Inclusive Socratic Teaching, Abrams discusses the need to modernize the Socratic method to fit our modern shared values. She speaks candidly about the current “hegemonic, toxic application of the Socratic method” that does not consider the changing needs of the modern, more diverse student population. Further, the virtual classroom, once discounted as a sub-par modality for legal education, is now more likely to play a larger role in legal education. It gives both students and professors flexibility that has been previously lacking in legal education. As noted in section I.A.2. above, virtual technology was a boon to experiential learning and clinical courses as the attorney-client relationship could be simulated and/or maintained with minimal expense.
Moreover, virtual education leveled the playing field a bit. Many minoritized students reported feeling more comfortable speaking in virtual classrooms as they were still in the safe spaces of their homes. Furthermore, virtual classrooms had less participation bias, perhaps because we were all new to the virtual modality of instruction. With the availability and proven utility of virtual technology during the last few years, along with the long-cited need to modify the application of the Socratic method, surely legal educators are aware of the unique opportunity that now exists to move the academy forward in a way to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion that has not been seen by past generations.
B. My Way Forward: Teaching Community and Wellness
After realizing that, no matter how hard I tried to pretend, I was not okay and neither were my students, I had to modify some of my teaching strategies to better support my students in the moment—and ultimately, impart some life skills that would inure to their benefit in law practice. What follows are steps I took in response to the trauma of teaching in the pandemic but will continue regardless of when we return to “normal.”
1. The Classroom as a Community
First, I had to build a community—and quickly. As a new faculty member (and a minoritized woman at that), I knew how important “community” was. As noted in the article COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbates Mental Health Issues for Black Students, “fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion is an important first step” in ensuring student success. To foster that sense of belonging and inclusion and to make sure each of us could feel comfortable being our authentic selves, I began the semester by assigning a short reading and writing exercise. Students read an excerpt from Building a House for Diversity by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., that relates a short fable using the metaphor of giraffes and elephants—insiders and outsiders—to examine our assumptions about power, influence, affirmative action, and acceptance of “the others.” After reading the excerpt, they wrote a “Diversity Statement,” in which each student told me their “take” on the concept in the fable and what made them diverse or different. During our first class, we discussed the assignment, so we could explore the topic together. After discussing each person’s essay on the thing that made them “different,” we identified some things that they all had in common: being from a particular part of the country; having a particular undergraduate major; being scared of what was to come during their first-year of law school; etc. We then agreed that different was not a negative concept; we agreed that we would treat our differences as something to benefit the collective in our class. This was something that allowed me, as a minoritized professor, to be my authentic self and refer to my difference as the academic year progressed. This exercise also encouraged my students to do the same.
Additionally, for the first time in more than fifteen years of teaching, I decided to call my students by their first names. Based on feedback from my students from the previous year, I thought this change in formality would be a good foundation upon which to build our classroom community. Generationally and in the midst of a continuing pandemic, it seemed to be the best option. My students seemed to connect with me better, and even the more challenging students seemed responsive to my use of their first names.
2. Skill Building through Wellness: Adaptability, Flexibility, and Resilience
Building community was only the first step. Then I had to build skills that would position my students to be better students and lawyers. We spoke often about the pandemic and the social and political issues swirling around us. I incorporated these discussions into my legal writing classroom because they were a part of our lives. I wanted to make sure my students were not ignoring the obvious or normalizing these traumatic events. As a part of our learning community, I wanted them to feel free to express themselves without feeling judged.
We had student-wellness presentations, wherein I organized students into small groups and gave them a few topics to choose from. These topics ranged from time management, self-care, and becoming a confident speaker to creating self-esteem by doing “esteem-able” acts and the perils of comparing yourself to others. The students would put together a five to ten-minute presentation about the particular topic. The students had a great time collaborating on the presentations and we all learned a lot during class discussions about the presentations. I wanted the students to see that their wellness mattered as students and as future attorneys.
This wellness was particularly important in legal writing classes. I was acutely aware that law school may be difficult generally and legal writing is especially challenging to those who had written well their entire lives, only to find out that legal writing was almost like learning a different language—one that was complex and unfamiliar. To that end, I sought to teach my students three skills: flexibility, adaptability, and resilience (FAR). Although these concepts are very similar, they are nuancedly different. Flexibility speaks to the ability to change when new circumstances arise, while adaptability focuses on being willing to change to suit new circumstances, and resilience addresses the ability to withstand and bounce back from unexpected or difficult circumstances.
I taught these skills by introducing the concept of growth mindset, sacrificing a bit of time on substance in favor of empowering students to learn. I used various exercises and readings to show the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and explained the utility of having the former. I also used strong visual aids to emphasize the growth they would experience in the class, so that I could manage their expectations. For example, I showed pictures of the growth of a human being from infant to adult, and throughout the academic year, we discussed where they felt they were in terms of their growth in the class: toddler, teenager, independent adult, etc. We talked often about the importance of positive self-talk when learning new concepts or when tasks were difficult. Instead of right and wrong, I taught them to think of their efforts as “good, better, best.” I also spoke candidly about failure—and how it is necessary for success. I called it “failing forward”—a term I heard a colleague use during a conference presentation. Ultimately, I wanted my students to acknowledge the unprecedented times in which they were living and learning, and to grow and develop skills that would help them navigate law school and the legal profession.
Not only did I teach these skills by introducing various concepts, but I also modeled them. As I said at the beginning of this essay, I was not fine: the Covid-19 pandemic, the death of my dear mother and other family and friends during the last two years, along with daily reports of social and political unrest, were soul stirring. I found myself desperately in need of my community and my FAR (flexibility, adaptability, and resilience) skills to make it through some very tough days. As a professor to the Millennial and Gen Z generations, appropriate transparency is a must. They appreciate it and it helps them to establish more realistic expectations of themselves, their professors, and what their professional selves will be. It is ultimately healthier for them. For that reason, we engaged in both structured and unstructured conversations about our feelings about law school, the legal profession, and our lives.
These adjustments were indeed small and only occasionally took class time away from my “normal” course content, but I view them as huge in comparison to the law school classroom in which I was educated and the classroom where I taught pre-pandemic. The intentional building of community, the attentiveness to the toxicity of homogeneous pedagogy and the unhealthy competition that it creates, and the building of skills that will build a student’s confidence and not fracture it, were well worth the effort. In the end, it was as instructive for me as it was for my students, easing some of the trauma I felt during this fraught time. Easing that trauma made it slightly more possible for me to engage in scholarship, which is one of the primary means to promotion for those in the legal academy. My methodology is but one way to move forward—to create some change in the midst of a time of unprecedented unknowns (and unrest).
Arguably, we have lived through two of the most challenging years of our personal and professional lives. The Covid-19 pandemic, along with the social and political dis-ease that we have experienced (and survived), should be used to push the legal academy forward, toward changes that will make us more culturally aware and diverse and better able to effectively educate the next generation of lawyers. They are watching; technology, our social constructs, and the changing landscape of our citizenry support nothing short of moving toward a new normal in the profession and law school classrooms. The time is now. This is the "tipping point, as Abrams said in his article. Let’s not miss this “shot” to address our collective trauma.
AALS Annual Meeting, January 2022, Balance & Well-Being in Legal Education, “The Power of Now: A Mindset for Teaching in Times of Uncertainty” (panel discussion).
Okay, maybe this is a little dramatic, but science does show that stress is the major cause of most chronic illnesses in today’s society. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Stress System Malfunction Could Lead to Serious, Life Threatening Disease (Sept. 9, 2002), https://www.nichd.nih.gov/newsroom/releases/stress [https://perma.cc/MWL4-6DBF].
Sha-Shana Crichton, Teaching in the Time of Disruption: A Case for Empathy and Honoring Diversity, 25 Legal Writing 4, 8 (2021). See Robert Minarcin, OK Boomer—The Approaching DiZruption of Legal Education by Generation Z, 39 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 29, 39, 43 (2020) (noting that Gen Y (aka the Millennials), born between 1981 and 1995, is the current generation filling the majority of the seats in law schools. However, Gen Z, born between 1995 through 2010, are certainly gaining ground. “To date, Generation Z, in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, is the most diverse of all the previous generations.”) Though there are noted differences, both Millennials and Gen Zers have some important similar characteristics: they are digital natives, are collaborative learners, are emotionally sensitive (fragile), and tend to be social justice conscious. Id. at 39-49.
See Laura P. Graham, Generation Z Goes to Law School: Teaching and Reaching Students in the Post-Millennial Generation, 41 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 29 (2018).
Tiffany D. Atkins, #Fortheculture: Generation Z and the Future of Legal Education, 26 Mich. J. Race & L. 115, 120 (2020).
Graham, supra note 5, at 39.
Atkins, supra note 6, at 120.
See generally New Study Finds Gender and Racial Bias Endemic in Legal Profession, American Bar Association (Sept. 6, 2018), https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2018/09/new-study-finds-gender-and-racial-bias-endemic-in-legal-professi/ [https://perma.cc/LE9Q-GPJZ].
Raymond H. Brescia, Lessons from the Present: Three Crises and Their Potential Impact on the Legal Profession, 49 Hofstra L. Rev. 607, 609-10 (2021).
Helia G. Hull, Diversity in the Legal Profession: Moving from Rhetoric to Reality, 4 Colum. J. Race & L. 1, 8 (2013).
See Andrew J. McClurg, Christine Nero Coughlin, & Nancy Levit, Law Jobs: The Complete Guide 24-25 (2019); see also Angela Onwauchi-Willig, The Intersectional Race and Gender Effects of the Pandemic in Legal Academia, 72 Hastings L.J. 1703, 1708 (2021) (noting that women law faculty are “overrepresented” in non-tenure stream faculty roles, which are less secure and typically pay less than more secure, tenure line positions occupied principally by men).
Brescia, supra note 10, at 616-20.
Id. at 616-17.
Id. at 617.
Jamie R. Abrams, Legal Education’s Curricular Tipping Point Toward Inclusive Socratic Teaching, 49 Hofstra L. Rev. 897, 898 (2021).
I use the term “relaxed” because many professors were only dressed professionally waist up, while many students used filters to disguise the fact that they had just woken up a few minutes before class.
Brescia, supra note 10, at 640.
Id. at 621.
Abrams, supra note 17, at 899.
See Christian Sundquist, The Future of Law Schools: Covid-19, Technology, and Social Justice, 53 Conn. L. Rev. Online 1, 4, 14 (2020).
Abrams, supra note 17, at 902.
I speak of Gen Z students, about whom much has been written. Some of their more salient characteristics follow: (1) “‘[t]hey are tethered to technology, social media, and their parents,’” Graham, supra note 5, at 38 (quoting Mary Ann Becker, Understanding the Tethered Generation: Net Gens Come to Law School, 53 Duq. L. Rev. 9, 10 (2015)); (2) “[t]hey are diverse, and they think globally,” id. at 39; and (3) “[t]hey are insecure and anxious, often coming to law school with mental and emotional health issues that tend to be exacerbated by the very nature of the law school experience . . . .” Id.
Abrams, supra note 17, at 902.
Id. (quoting W. Chan Kim & Rende Mauborgne, Tipping Point Leadership, 81 Harv. Bus. Rev. 50, 52 (2003).
Eminem, Lose Yourself (Shady Interscope 2002). The chorus of the song in which Eminem raps, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow[.] This opportunity comes once in a lifetime[,]” seems appropriate here.
Health Equity Considerations & Racial & Ethnic Minority Groups, Ctrs. For Disease Control & Prevention (Feb. 12, 2021), https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/91049 [https://perma.cc/M8K4-QEE2]; The COVID Racial Data Tracker, COVID Tracking Project, https://covidtracking.com/race [https://perma.cc/5YKW-79VQ] (last visited Nov. 16, 2022), quoted in Catherine J.K. Sandoval, Patricia A. Cain, Stephen F. Diamond, Allen S. Hammond, Jean C. Love, Stephen E. Smith, & Solmaz Nabipour, Legal Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Put Health, Safety and Equity First, 61 Santa Clara L. Rev. 367, 378 (2021) [hereinafter Equity First].
Equity First, supra note 31, at 378 (citing Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity, Ctrs. For Disease Control & Prevention (Mar. 12, 2021)), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html [https://perma.cc/YEM5-GUSF].
Id. (quoting Richard A. Oppel Jr., Robert Gebeloff, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Will Wright, & Mitch Smith, The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus, N.Y. Times (July 5, 2020)), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/05/us/coronavirus-latinos-african-americans-cdc-data.html [https://perma.cc/TDW9-27RF]; see generally Jazmyn T. Moore et al., Disparities in Incidence of COVID-19 Among Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups in Counties Identified as Hotspots During June 5-18, 2020-22 States, February-June 2020, 69 Morbidity & Mortality Wkly. Rep. 1122 (Aug. 21, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm?s_cid=mm6933e1_w [https://perma.cc/MDN8-9EHB].
Cyra Akila Choudhury, The Covid Care Crisis and Its Implications for Legal Academia, 16 FIU L. Rev. 1, 1-3 (2021).
Vincent R. Johnson, The End of the Golden Age of American Legal Education: My Year as Interim Dean, 52 U. Tol. L. Rev. 289, 302-03 (2021) (citations and quotations omitted).
While there has not been an empirical study performed to “examine the extent of intersectional disparities in law review publishing or the negative effects on faculty more generally due to COVID-19,” there is a plethora of anecdotal information to support this assertion. Meera E. Deo, Investigating Pandemic Effects on Legal Academia, 89 Fordham L. Rev. 2467, 2469 (2021). Notably, in the article, Deo discusses such a study that she is undertaking to measure these intersectional disparities.
Katherine M. Bender, David Jaffe & Jerome M. Organ, Updated Survey of Law Student Well Being (USLSWB): Preliminary Data on What Law Schools Should Be Doing and Experiences of Trauma (PowerPoint slides shared with the author as a part of an AALS Annual Meeting panel event, Jan. 2022) (on file with author). This is a follow-up to the original Survey of Law Student Well Being conducted in 2014.
Abrams, supra note 17, at 918.
Id. at 919.
Id. Abrams also notes that “[t]hese aggregate numbers also obscure vast differences when examined by region, with states such as Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, and Hawaii reporting enrollment rates closer to 45%, while other states remain in the 10-20% range.” Id.
See Susan Ayres, Inside the Master’s Gates: Resources and Tools to Dismantle Racism and Sexism in Higher Education, 21 J. L. Society 20, 41 (2021) (describing the legal academy as “heterotopic white spaces”). Ayers also points to the “‘pedagogical techniques that are utilized in the law school classroom, which is designed architectonically and epistemologically to be hierarchical,’” which “‘alienate and silence students, especially students of color and women from different backgrounds.’” Id.
See Melissa Ezarik, Professors’ Part in Maintaining Student Mental Health, Inside Higher Educ. (May 17, 2022), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/05/17/seven-professor-actions-contribute-student-well-being-infographic [https://perma.cc/J5JG-VF55] (discussing the high level of stress caused by Covid in Black, LGTBQA+, and first generation college students).
Faith Mitchell, COVID-19’s Disproportionate Effects on Children of Color Will Challenge the Next Generation, Urban Institute (Aug.17, 2020), https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/covid-19s-disproportionate-effects-children-color-will-challenge-next-generation [https://perma.cc/S697-N2KX].
Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups, U.S. Ctrs. for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html [https://perma.cc/2QJE-3EWD] (last visited Nov. 16, 2022).
See Samara Anderson, Stressed Much?, 45 Vt. B.J. 30, 31 (Summer 2019).
Abrams, supra note 17, at 919.
Id. (noting that when data were last released in 2009, “[w]omen of color were just 7% of law faculty”).
See Deo, supra note 37, at 2470.
See id. passim.
Abrams, supra note 17, at 925.
Onwauchi-Willig, supra note 13, at 1712-13.
Choudhury, supra note 34, at 4
Id. See also Cynthia Thomas, Women of Color Are Disproportionately Impacted By Post-Pandemic Workplaces, Law Practice Today (July 14, 2021), https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/women-of-color-are-disproportionately-impacted-by-post-pandemic-workplaces/ [https://perma.cc/5MXN-NGRX]; Dan Pinnington & Reid Trautz, Future Proofing: Return to Normal or “New Normal”?, A.B.A: The Marketing Issue (Mar. 2, 2022), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/law_practice_magazine/2022/ma22/fp/ [https://perma.cc/6T7W-FCAS].
Choudhury, supra note 34, at 4.
Equity First, supra note 31, at 379-80.
Standard 303: Curriculum. (Am. Bar Ass’n Feb. 2022); see also Stephanie Francis Ward, Loan counseling and cross-cultural competency programing will be required from ABA-accredited law schools, A.B.A. J. (Feb. 14, 2022) https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/requirement-for-cross-cultural-competency-programing-in-law-schools-among-changes-approved-by-aba-house-of-delegates [https://perma.cc/AN6Q-KP3Y]; L. Danielle Tully, The Cultural (Re)Turn: The Case For Teaching Culturally Responsive Lawyering, 16 Stan. J. of Civ. Rts. & Civ. Liberties 201, 217-29 (2020).
Abrams, supra note 17, at 927.
Id. at 929-30.
Lindsay McKenzie, COVID-19 and Online Education Decisions, Inside Higher Ed. (July 30, 2020), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/07/30/survey-data-reveal-impact-covid-19-perceptions-online-education [https://perma.cc/J57L-UBHV]; see generally Equity First, supra note 31.
Id.; see also Sarah J. Schendel, Listen!: Amplifying The Experiences of Black Law School Graduates in 2020, 100 Neb. L. Rev. 73, 110 (2021).
Autumn A. Arnett, COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbates Mental Health Issues for Black Students, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (May 11, 2022), https://www.diverseeducation.com/authors/contact/15284020/autumn-a-arnett [https://perma.cc/8CR9-ATTX].
R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., Building a House for Diversity 3-9 (1999).
The prompt for the assignment read as follows:
The diversity statement may very well include many things. Like many things in the law, there is no right or wrong answer.
However, if you are having difficulty finding your voice for this assignment, you may wish to use the following prompt: "Describe how your background or experiences will contribute to or enhance the diversity of the law school community (e.g. based on your culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ideology, age, socioeconomic status, academic background, employment experience, etc.).
In the past (as a professor at an HBCU law school), common practice was to call students by last names with an honorific.
My 1L students from the previous year (first full year of pandemic instruction) seemed to find me distant, despite my teaching in person, mask to mask. My upper-level students did not encounter me in this way. Indeed, my upper-level students noted the opposite. Upon reflection, I had to concede that it was my first year at a PWI law school (after almost fifteen years of teaching at an HBCU law school); I was teaching mask-to-mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, which oftentimes hid the warmth of my encouraging smile; and I was still grieving the loss of my dear mother a month before school started. There was a lot to unpack there; but in looking back, I think part of the problem was my failure to show up as my authentic self—perhaps because of a bit of imposter syndrome. I simply did not feel like I could and still be accepted.
I’m not sure if this will change the perception of my students this year as I’ve not read my evaluations yet.
To be clear, in the past, I would call my students by their first names outside of class. I would also call my student advisees and other students that I encountered outside of class by their first names, but felt addressing students by their last names added to the professional tenor of the law classroom inasmuch as I required my students to call me professor. I thought it important that I accord them similar honorific courtesy, but I found that I was perhaps wrong, or circumstances had changed. Along with this change, I also began to introduce my authentic self through an introductory exercise on the very first day of class and during which we discussed our racial (and other) differences as a strength. I spoke openly about being a minority in my own classroom and what that meant to me (and to them).
In her book, psychologist Carol Dweck “coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence.” MindsetWorks, Dr. Dweck’s Research into Growth Mindset Changed Education Forever, https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/#:~:text=Dweck coined the terms fixed,that leads to higher achievement [https://perma.cc/P3DF-YJRC]. In her book, she explained that those students who believed they could get smarter, were better learners as they were willing to put in the extra time and effort, which ultimately leads to their higher achievement. See Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2d ed. 2017).
Hat tip to Alexa Chew, Professor of Legal Writing, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. She used this term during a Legal Writing Institute Presentation though I’m not sure which year it was.
Abrams, supra note 17, at 902.
Eminem, supra note 30.