Separate, Unequal, and Seeking Support

Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice, Vol. 28, p. 9, 2012

42 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2013

See all articles by Meera E. Deo

Meera E. Deo

Thomas Jefferson School of Law; Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE)

Date Written: March 3, 2013


Legal scholars and social scientists alike joined Derrick Bell in recognizing that racism and discrimination evolve with the times, adapting to current norms and trends rather than dying out altogether. These social ills are just as prevalent in schools of higher education as in other social institutions. While Brown v. Board of Education (1954) formally outlawed segregation, the decision to push for integration meant sacrificing true equality in separate schools for African Americans. The result may be a perverse double failure: We have not only failed at reaching the goal of integration but we are also failing many students of color who are marginalized on predominantly white campuses.

Our schools today are increasingly segregated. In addition, the few “integrated” environments that do exist consist of predominantly white populations, with the underrepresented students of color sometimes feeling disengaged from learning. Law school environments are especially notable for being inhospitable and unfriendly. Students of color often create and join campus organizations, especially with those from similar race/ethnic backgrounds, in order to seek support. To date, little empirical research has examined the reasons why individual students join law school affinity groups or assessed their experience as members.

This article fills this gap in the literature by focusing on the expectations and experiences of members of law student organizations. The article specifically examines distinctions based on the type of group (race/ethnic-specific vs. mainstream) as well as the race of members (students of color vs. whites). The research relies on national, longitudinal survey and focus group data that give agency to the voices of law students. The data are situated within the literature on American racism, specifically inspired by Derrrick Bell’s article on the tension between striving for integration and striving for equality. The article contends that our current state — with intensifying educational segregation as well as what some see as second-class citizenship for students of color in somewhat integrated environments — may have been the inevitable outcome of the Brown lawyers’ decision to pursue an integration strategy rather than pushing for true equality.

Keywords: segregation, integration, law students, student organizations, higher education, constitutional law, equal protection

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Deo, Meera E., Separate, Unequal, and Seeking Support (March 3, 2013). Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice, Vol. 28, p. 9, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Meera E. Deo (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

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Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) ( email )

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