A Kinder, Gentler Law School? Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Legal Education at King Hall
93 Pages Posted: 11 May 2005 Last revised: 8 Dec 2012
Diversity is touted as a preeminent concern and important goal of the legal profession generally and of the UC Davis School of Law specifically. Known as King Hall (after Martin Luther King, Jr.), the UC Davis School of Law is relatively diverse compared to other law schools and enjoys a reputation as a kinder, gentler place to study law. This article and the study on which it is based investigate whether King Hall truly is, for students of various demographic backgrounds, the uniquely supportive community it purports to be. The article thus contributes to the burgeoning literature on the influence of a student's race, ethnicity and gender on her law school experience.
Based largely on extensive statistical analysis of a student survey conducted at King Hall in February 2004, we conclude that, as at other law schools, statistically significant differences exist between the self-reported experiences and perceptions of women and minority students, on the one hand, and their male and white peers, on the other. We also find that students' perceptions and experiences often evolve over the course of their time in law school, with students becoming more negative as their law school careers progress. The data and analysis reveal that race, ethnicity, gender and often class year are significant predictors of student comfort, satisfaction, and success.
Our study indicates that King Hall is, effectively, two different law schools. It is a comfortable and supportive place for those who might be considered mainstream or insiders, those who embody what we label the mean voice of King Hall. But it is an often uncomfortable and alienating place for many minority and women students, relative outsiders whose perspectives differ significantly from that mean, or average. This discomfort operates to their distinct detriment academically and emotionally.
We conclude that a disproportionate number of students of color and women do not experience King Hall as a kind, gentle, and supportive environment for the study of law. To address this inequality, we recommend that the leaders of King Hall renew their commitment to achieve even greater diversity among students, faculty and staff. We also argue, based on widespread and vehement criticism of the Socratic method by students of color and women, that the time has come to re-think and modify its use. Finally, we suggest that law schools frequently provide opportunities for all students to express their perceptions about their legal educations. Responses should then be evaluated by students' demographic features to ensure that the experiences of some groups are not obscured by the average.
The suggestions offered based on the study of King Hall may be appropriately implemented at other law schools, for if an institution as well intentioned and diverse as King Hall is alienating many students of color and women, it is reasonable to assume that other law schools may be even more hostile to these student populations. If law schools, as the gatekeepers of the legal profession, truly wish to diversify the profession and make it a more welcome and tolerable one for persons of diverse backgrounds, simply doing better than in the past, or doing better than other law schools, is not sufficient.
Keywords: discrimination, legal education, legal profession, socratic method, race, gender, ethnicity
JEL Classification: J15, J16, J71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation