I recently read a disconcerting article on sexism in law school. This post is going to discuss my observations on the subject, as well as the ways the national dialogue about sexism, rape culture, sexual assault, and the like are making their way into the law school consciousness.
Now, before I delve into those topics, I feel the need to provide two disclaimers. First, I am not going to pretend that I, as a white male, have any real experience with sexism. I am absolutely confident that my female classmates encounter unconscious biases and deal with issues of gender inequality in myriad ways that I cannot fully relate to or understand. Second, my experience at Columbia Law is probably different from a lot of other schools and perhaps even from that of some of my classmates. I have taken classes taught by faculty members like Suzanne Goldberg, who is one of the foremost experts on gender and equality law, and other equally aware professors. I am by no means holding up Columbia Law as the pinnacle of equality, but I have not personally observed instances of sexism as reported in the article cited above.
Gender issues are certainly making their way into law schools. In my criminal law class, we spent weeks discussing Columbia University’s sexual assault policies, going over various state laws on the subject, and engaging in normative discussions about potential reforms. My professor seemed particularly attuned to the issues surrounding the subject, and he did a good job of handling those issues with sensitivity and respect. He set up a screening of The Hunting Ground for interested members of the class, and he did his best to ensure that we understood the national dialogue on the subject. Moreover, the dean of Columbia Law did not permit professors to ask questions about sexual assault or rape law to avoid triggering anyone in the school (a move some viewed as erring too much on the side of caution). My constitutional law professor focused heavily on equal protection in both the race and gender contexts. I would say that a large percentage of my first year of school was spent learning about gender issues.
From talking to people at schools like Berkeley, UCLA, and Harvard, it seems that my experience was not necessarily a unique one. All of those schools have class offerings, clinics, and lectures on gender issues. As you can probably tell, however, my sample size is relatively small and largely made up of schools in highly liberal, cosmopolitan areas. Without naming names or discussing particular parts of the country, I am sure that other schools may not be approaching the issues in the same way, as is borne out by the article above.
The legal profession is still dominated by men. In some cases, this absolutely leads to sexism and unfair practices. I hope that less progressive schools emphasize and engage with the national dialogue on subjects like rape culture and sexual assault. The law students of today will one day change the guard when it comes to firm leadership, and an awareness of these issues will hopefully help create a more inclusive legal industry.