Women's Advocacy Project, Speak Now: Women, Education, and Achievement at The University of Chicago Law School:
The Women’s Advocacy Project began with casual observations and conversations among friends. As we progressed through our 1L and 2L years at UChicago Law School, we remarked on the gender dynamics we observed in classroom participation and on our surprise at a Moot Court board that did not have a single woman on it. When 1L writing prizes were announced, women locked eyes with one another across the Green Lounge as male name after male name was called. We raised eyebrows at one another after certain comments in class; we related stories of gendered career advice we received; we scanned the Law Review masthead and noticed a scarcity of female names. Speaking to one another and sharing our experiences made us feel that we were not alone in our perceptions and frustration.
We wondered if our observations were anomalous and unrepresentative of the Law School as a whole, but we had no way of knowing. Law school, with its serious academic and professional demands, is a short, intense three years. It provides little opportunity for serious reflection, or long-term institutional knowledge building among the student body. So, inspired by work done by students at Harvard and Yale Law Schools, we set out to fix that. We sought to explore and document gender dynamics at the Law School, and to discover whether our own unique experiences aligned with those of other women and men pursuing their legal educations at UChicago, beyond our social circles, demographic backgrounds, and class years, and in the recent past.
This study was of course motivated by our intuition that there are problems to address and changes that might be made in order to improve gender dynamics at the Law School. But as UChicago students, we’ve been taught to believe in efficiency. So this study was also motivated by a desire to accurately document and honestly understand the dynamics at work at the Law School in order to enable efficient diagnosis of problems and efficient allocation of resources to address them. More than anything, however, this study was motivated by a deep love of the Law School, respect for the institution, admiration for our professors and classmates, and immense gratitude for the education, experiences, and relationships that we have gained during our time here. We believe that the best way to express that gratitude is to engage with the institution, challenge it, and push it to continue improving.
Over the course of the last year and a half, we have been consistently impressed, even humbled, by the outpouring of support from members of the Law School community. Faculty members, administrators, and classmates have been generous with their time and energy, all working to lend their expertise to make the project a success. Members of our community are truly dedicated to engaging these issues and creating an environment where all students thrive. We therefore hope that this study serves as a tool for members of the Law School community in their efforts to that effect. We hope that this community will read, discuss, interrogate, and elaborate upon our study. ...
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FACULTY:
• Classroom management:
o Call on women first. Our findings may suggest that hearing from women early in a class session may encourage more women to participate voluntarily.
o Wait a few seconds before calling on someone. Many professors reported waiting several seconds after asking for volunteers to make sure that a diverse set of students has time to put their hands up. Professors have also reported that it helps ensure more diverse student participation.
o Consider cold calling more, if you can do it in a way that is gender-balanced.
• But consider doing more than cold calling. One students writes: “Do written assignments so folks who get nervous speaking in front of a huge class also get their voices heard.”
• Or consider using a panel system. At least one student wrote at length about how she enjoyed knowing when she was going to be on call and having a meaningful opportunity to speak each time. Two professors also reported having success in achieving broad student participation by using panels. Such a system avoids some of the intensity of cold calling while also ensuring that all students have tangible opportunities to participate.
o Tell the class explicitly that you hope men and women will participate equally. This communicates that you care about who participates, and that you welcome diverse perspectives and ideas.
o Reach out to and encourage students who make thoughtful comments in class.
o Email students who do well in in your classes, whether on the final exam, on a paper, or participating in class, offering to write them letters of recommendation in the future.
o Office hours:
• Communicate to students that they need not have a specific question about class material in order to attend office hours. Express a desire to get to know students during office hours.
• Encourage students to attend office hours in groups. Attending office hours with classmates can be less intimidating, and conversation sometimes flows more easily when the meeting is not one-on-one. Students benefit from hearing the questions that their classmates ask and may try to help answer those questions themselves.
• Schedule office hours. Many students discussed preferring scheduled offices hours in addition to an “open door” policy because they feel less intrusive.
o Alternate pronouns in examples and hypotheticals. Make sure to sometimes use female pronouns when discussing judges, legislators, etc.
o Encourage all students, whether they are interested in academia or not, to be research assistants or work on writing projects, whether that means an independent study or completing an SRP or WP requirement. These are ways to develop meaningful relationships between students and faculty.
o Reach out to exceptional female students early to encourage them to consider a career in legal academia, and offer to mentor them in research and writing if they express an interest. The Law School should take a more active role in producing the next generation of female law scholars, and this can begin with faculty.