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Assessing the Viability of Race-Neutral Alternatives in Law School Admissions

48 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2016 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017

Eboni S. Nelson

University of South Carolina - School of Law

Ronald Pitner

University of South Carolina - College of Social Work

Carla D. Pratt

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law

Date Written: October 7, 2016

Abstract

The past several years have been challenging times for law schools. Many have experienced declines in student enrollment due to a shrinking applicant pool. The declining number of applicants presents increased challenges for law schools, particularly concerning their efforts to educate students in racially diverse learning environments. In light of recent challenges to the constitutionality of race-conscious affirmative action, it is imperative to engage in a project, such as this, that examines the relationship between racial categories and race-neutral identity factors in law school admissions. Understanding the relationship between racial groups and certain race-neutral identity factors will help law schools comply with Fisher I’s mandate that universities consider race-neutral means for achieving diversity before using race in the admissions process. Moreover, the data from this study illuminates the structural inequalities that continue to exist for certain racial minority groups and rebuts the assumption that those who are privileged enough to make it to law school are insulated from the structural inequalities that race-conscious affirmative action was created to address.

This empirical study surveyed first year law students at public ABA approved law schools and asked them about race-neutral aspects of their identity, such as family background and education institution characteristics, to determine the relationship, if any, between race and certain socioeconomic identity factors. The goal of the project was to determine if there exists a relationship between certain race-neutral identity factors and the race of first year law students. The findings will enhance law schools’ understanding of race-neutral admissions factors that may or may not contribute to their ability to assemble a racially diverse student body, and will give law schools the tools to experiment with trying to yield a racially diverse class without asking applicants about their race. Possessing such knowledge will greatly aid law schools as they develop and implement admissions policies in their efforts to provide greater access to students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the legal profession while also fulfilling their commitment to educate all law students in a diverse learning environment.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Eboni S. and Pitner, Ronald and Pratt, Carla D., Assessing the Viability of Race-Neutral Alternatives in Law School Admissions (October 7, 2016). Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming; AccessLex Institute Research Paper No. 16-06. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2849546 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2849546

Eboni S. Nelson (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina - School of Law ( email )

Main & Greene Streets
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

Ronald Pitner

University of South Carolina - College of Social Work ( email )

1731 College Street; Rm. 106
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

Carla D. Pratt

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law ( email )

150 South College Street
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

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