UCLA Law Dean Misses the Point on Diversity

A recent survey of law students at UCLA documents serious issues disproportionately impacting students of color.

The survey was spearheaded by a group of students, in conjunction with a research institute at the university, because administrators were not responsive in meetings where student complained about race-based issues.  According to the students, law school administrators told them there was “not enough evidence of student discomfort to warrant a response.”  The student survey was designed to provide tangible evidence of the perceived problems and it did document significant discrepancies between the experience of students of color and white students at the law school. 

Three hundred randomly-selected students (out of 1003 enrolled) were emailed the survey.  Responses were gathered from 178 students (106 white, 67 of color).  Some of the results include the following:

    •  49% of the students of color described the classroom environment as only sometimes or never welcoming to students of color (24% of the white student respondents agreed with this perception)
    • 67% of the students of color agreed that non-white students face challenges at UCLA Law School that white students do not face (42% of the white student respondents agreed)
    • 64% of the students of color disagreed with the statement: “When I am at law school, my racial identity is unimportant. I am just another student.”
    • 43% of the students of color had an experience at the law school where they felt unwelcome or disrespected
    • 33% of the students of color reported feeling unwelcome or disrespected by a professor
    • These experiences disproportionately impacted students of color; causing them greater emotional distress, negatively impacting their ability to study and learn as well as their class participation, and leading them to cynicism about the law school’s commitment to equal treatment.

In a story published in the university’s online newspaper shortly after the study results were published in a law review article, the law dean’s response was tepid at best:

In an interview, Dean Rachel Moran acknowledged the survey, saying it highlighted room for improvement in the context of campus climate.

“We have a longstanding commitment to developing diversity, and we’re always working to improve,” Moran said. “At any institution in America, there’s always room for improvement.”

Moran said the survey also yielded positive results. She noted that most students did not feel disrespected by professors or administrators, according to the survey results.

Months later, when the story reached the national press, Dean Moran chose to defend the law school by pointing to the diversity of the student body and faculty:

UCLA dean Rachel Moran said the law school encourages “thoughtful examinations” of this and other matters of importance to society, but defended the law school’s record on faculty and student diversity.

“UCLA has the fifth highest percentage of students of color among the top 20 law schools, and we are tied for the second largest percentage of women in our entering fall class, according to 2012 ABA data,” she said. “We are also very proud of our diverse faculty, which leads the top 20 law schools in the nation.”

Unfortunately, Dean Moran totally missed the point.  You can have a lot of diversity but no inclusion.  Until the law school administration comes to terms with the fact that the culture of the law school is not inclusive, the law students of color (who are paying customers by the way!) will continue to be marginalized and feel like outsiders.

The students who conducted the survey made four recommendations:

  1. Re-administer the survey annually
  2. Hire faculty interested in supporting all students’ well-being and improving the classroom climate
  3. Admit more students of color, and
  4. Change the internal conversation – from blaming students to examining the fundamental failures of the institution.

Even after “proving” a problem existed, law students felt compelled to institute a petition for a mechanism for students to bring concerns about law school climate to the attention of the administration.  Over 25% of the students signed the petition.

Really?!  Paying customers tell you they feel marginalized and that the environment is hostile to them, they “prove” it with statistics and still have to put forward a petition calling for change?

When the law dean defended the school by pointing to the diversity of the student body and faculty, she completely missed the boat.  Diversity isn’t the problem; you can have a lot of diversity but no inclusion.  The law school administration should take the students’ 4th recommendation seriously and get to the bottom of the root causes for students of color having a materially different experience at UCLA than their white counterparts  – the structural, cultural, and behavioral issues that create a racially hostile environment.