Paul L. Caron

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Law Schools Need To Get Serious About The Work Of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Belinda Dantley (Assistant Dean, Office of Diversity Equity Inclusion, Saint Louis University School of Law) & Lisa Sonia Taylor (Assistant Dean, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Affinity Relations, American University Washington College of Law), The Bottom Line: Law Schools Need To Get Serious About the Work Of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (press release):

The Bottom LineNorth American law schools are adding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) roles or responsibilities at an increasing pace. In early 2021 we surveyed DEI professionals at law schools across the country. ... Eighty-two DEI professionals completed the survey. ...

Based on our review of the survey responses and our experience as DEI professionals, we make the following distinct yet compatible recommendations for law schools that want to get serious about the critical work of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Update and reimagine DEI roles. DEI work has noble beginnings. Much like the role of academic support, DEI work has grown out of a desire to support diverse communities of students in legal education. While DEI professionals play a critical role in student services, today's antiracist commitments require institution-facing initiatives to address structural and systemic problems. DEI professionals need to be positioned to influence the change needed to sustain equitable and inclusive environments.

Develop a law school DEI strategic plan. DEI needs to be proactive and intentional. Law schools should sponsor community efforts to assess diversity needs, determine institutional outcomes and develop strategic initiatives to achieve these outcomes with metrics for success. Strategic planning is a valuable tool for defining the role of diversity officers and securing institutional buy-in.

Invest in the work. Law schools should invest in DEI outcomes in the same way they invest in enrollment, bar passage, career placement, and any other strategic priority. Consequently, funding, staffing and community commitment must be sufficient for the law school to achieve its DEI outcomes.

Support the professionalization of DEI positions. Law schools that seek to create DEI positions or responsibilities should clearly define the role and articulate expectations for performance. Filling these positions should be intentional. Compensation for DEI work should reflect the critical nature of the work and should be on par with others similarly situated law school professionals. As a whole, legal education should organize around DEI and support the work as a distinct discipline as it has done for others like admissions, career services, academic support and development.

Create an independent DEI office/position. In addition to professionalizing these roles, DEI should have a distinct identity guided by its own set of outcomes and housed in an independent DEI office or chief diversity officer position. While there will always be a need for departmental DEI professionals in admissions, student services and other law school offices, the coordination of school-wide DEI work should resemble an orchestra or musical ensemble. In this arrangement, independent DEI officers are the conductors who set the tone as they operationalize the law school’s strategic DEI priorities through collaboration with departments, faculty and administrators, coordination of simultaneous DEI efforts, and assessments. Departmental DEI professionals are first chair musicians who lead programs, sponsor initiatives and implement policies within their respective disciplines in harmony with the independent DEI officers.

Position DEI officers to influence policy and practices. Law school DEI professionals are highly motivated professionals who are making an impact in their work. To fulfill the commitments made to diverse stakeholders and secure sustainable change, DEI officers must also have the ability to push for equity in policies and practices. DEI officers should be part of the law school's leadership team, preferably reporting directly to the dean. DEI officers need to be in the room where decisions are made and empowered as advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion.

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