Inspiration and Resources for Integrating Doctrine and Diversity in Law School Classrooms

In April, a book I co-edited on the topic of how to integrate diversity, equity, and social justice skills and issues into the traditional American 1L curriculum was published. While it is certainly not the first book to tackle this subject, Integrating Doctrine and Diversity takes an innovative approach in its scope, organization, tone, and usability. As I note in the introduction, our goal “is not going to try to convince you that diversity, equity, and inclusion in law and legal academia is critical or important or vital or necessary or long overdue. Other authors have covered this ground with care and conviction. As editors, we have a certain freedom to define the boundaries of the work we have created instead of allowing the boundaries of the topic to define the work for us. In this case, we are making a choice to answer the question how and not why.”

From the beginning, the project’s goal was to collect and spotlight the works of law professors who have done – and are successfully doing – the difficult work of acknowledging, discussing, featuring, mulling over, studying, and engaging with diversity across the 1L curriculum. It was not intended to be a think piece about why diversity is important in law school classrooms. It was not intended to convince professors that this is a good direction in which to walk. It was not intended to be a book about the traumas and invisibilities our students of color (or students with disabilities, LGBTQIA students, female students, etc.) face and feel. Nor was it intended to change the hearts and minds of those who do not find value and sustenance in teaching diversity in 1L classrooms. Integrating Doctrine and Diversity was intended to help persons who want to do this work – even and especially those who fear they might muck it up.

We took this approach because it was obvious to us that teaching diversity in the doctrinal 1L curriculum is hard and necessary; and that the resource we envisioned—first-hand expertise with tools to support further study—did not yet exist. So that is what we created and that is our contribution to the conversation. It is a how-to manual, not a sales pitch.

Our choice to pursue this approach rested on the assumption that doing this work is important and needs discussion, resources, debate, and support.

And yet, while this was so obvious to us – so obvious, in fact, that in the first sentence of the book we warn all readers that we refuse to engage in the discussion of its import because it is so fundamental – I now regret that we didn’t say it outright. And so today I will do so: Teaching diversity skills throughout the law school curriculum, and specifically in 1L doctrinal classes, is critical. And I say this not because I edited a book on the topic, but because our students are demanding it. And we should listen to them.

All across the country, law student groups – specifically Black Law Student Association (BLSA) groups and their members – have presented demands (sometimes in the form of requests, or petitions, or statements, or letters) to us as individuals and institutions. And while these demands may differ between law schools, there are universal themes that emerge. One such theme involves the integration of diversity into the traditional law school doctrinal curriculum. Now.

The time has come to change our curriculum and re-think our pedagogy. In truth, that time came a long time ago, but we were able to stave it off or ignore it or subvert it or hide from it. But now it is here, and the real work is happening in some schools and soon to come at others.  Depending on who you are, what you teach, where you teach, and how you teach, this news may leave you feeling excited, challenged, tired, scared, uneasy, apprehensive, joyful, relieved, or some combination of all these things. But however you may feel about what lies ahead, my message is one of optimism.

I am optimistic because law professors are experts in classroom management, particularly those who have used the Socratic method. I am optimistic because law schools, and particularly a number of law school deans, are stating their intentions to commit resources to this work. I am optimistic because giving context to the laws and cases taught in our classrooms benefits all of our students. And I am optimistic because there are techniques, cases, books, and resources to support us in that work.

 

This year, in celebration of our book, RWU Law and CUNY Law have launched a yearlong speaker series. Throughout this academic year, we will be highlighting the contributing authors of Integrating Doctrine and Diversity in discussions on how to navigate these changes in our curriculum. Our next event is scheduled for October 26th at 3:30 pm EST, and registration is free for all. This event will feature a discussion about one of the biggest challenges to incorporating issues of race, gender, social justice, class, and diversity in the law school doctrinal classroom: the common fear that we won’t know how to react when something goes wrong with the discussion. We will be having an open and frank exchange of strategies to employ when the classroom conversation becomes problematic.

The first event – a kickoff celebration – took place in September, and the recording is available here

Please join us as we work through these pedagogical issues together. We invite law professors, from doctrinal to clinical. We invite law students, from those who demanded to those who are just curious to learn more. Together, with great vulnerability, grace, and bravery, we will meet the demands of this generation of students and the next.

 

Nicole P. Dyszlewski is one of the editors of Integrating Doctrine and Diversity: Inclusion and Equity in the Law School Classroom. She currently serves as the Head of Reference, Instruction, and Engagement at the RWU Law Library and as an adjunct professor. She received a B.A. from Hofstra University, a J.D. from Boston University School of Law, and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. She is a member of the Massachusetts State Bar and the Rhode Island State Bar. Her areas of interest are mass incarceration, access to justice, and systems of race and gender inequality in law. Nicole was the 2020 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Volunteer Service Award and the 2015 recipient of the AALL Emerging Leader Award.

 

Suggested citation: Nicole P. Dyszlewski, Inspiration and Resources for Integrating Doctrine and Diversity in Law School Classrooms, JURIST – Academic Commentary, October 21, 2021, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/10/Nicole-Dyszlewski-resources-diversity-inclusion-law-school/.


This article was prepared for publication by Gabrielle Wast, JURIST’s Deputy Executive Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org


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