2005 The Whitest Law School Report
and Other Law School Rankings Related
to Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Law School

Professor Vernellia R. Randall

Minorities and Isolation
Chapter 7: Performing Well in Law School - The Isolation Factor

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Isolation-Law Schools
Minorities and Isolation
Blacks in Law Schools
Asians in Law Schools
Indians in Law Schools
Latinos in Law Schools


Chapter 7: The Isolation Factor

 

Impact of Isolation of Minority Students
Cathaleen A. Roach
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            If the problem now seems undeniable within the general student population, it is doubly more difficult for many of the black, Hispanic, older, and other non-traditional law students, for whom isolation in all facets of life is a much more pervasive problem. Minority law students experience acute isolation, which in turn, produces serious psychological and academic ramifications.

            
In fact, there are indications that psychological and academic ramifications may fall disproportionately on students of color. For example, there is an added psychological strain experienced by black law students who enter an environment dominated by whites with resulting high degrees of alienation and estrangement. One author reports that the "LSAT overpredicts first-year performance for minority students" but not for majority students, which suggests cultural barriers exist within the law school. Similarly, another author recalls that as a black law student she only rarely felt that her presence made any impact on the class overall and that by and large she felt invisible.

            
The segregation felt by minority law students can affect motivation which in turn affects self-esteem and the necessary sense of confidence required to survive. A 1988 study of 667 law students at Boalt Hall discovered that women and people of color suffer substantially diminished self-esteem in comparison to white male students at Boalt. Moreover, in 1980, a Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund study reported that a lack of confidence can be a dominant cause of a student's academic problems. Additionally, a "message of incompetence" or failure can be telegraphed to the student in a myriad of ways, including actions by professors who have lower expectations of minority students. In short, it seems apparent that minority student isolation may be more extreme than that of traditional law students, with far-reaching effects on self-esteem and motivation.

            
Moreover, in addition to psychological consequences, racial isolation also has academic consequences. Students of color are often excluded from  important yet informal networking systems, which means that the student is "often shut off from the intra-institutional methods by which white students tend to acquire information about how to function in this new role, including advice from upper-class students and faculty members."
 
            Minority students are often shut out of the more formal networks, such as study groups. One author suggests that the majority students' frequent categorization of all blacks as affirmative action beneficiaries, i.e., unqualified to be in law school, along with the reluctance of many blacks to speak up in class, results in "fairly common exclusion of blacks from white study groups." As a result, blacks and other minorities are less likely than majority students to be exposed to successful upper-class students or sons or daughters of judges and other professionals. Isolation (intended or unintended) denies them access to the pivotal survival information including outlines, flow charts, and practice exams to a higher degree than a typical majority student. Finally, due to isolation, some minority students miss the benefit of a more competitive and high achieving study group, and thus, some minority students stay adrift either studying alone or amidst lesser achieving study groups.

            
Although race is clearly a major cause of student isolation, the problem of isolation is not solely limited to race. It affects all sorts of students who might naturally be thought to drift outside the realm of the traditional majority law student. Studies indicate that older women law students, Asian law students, and other non-traditional law students may also be disproportionately affected by isolation.

            
Consequently, as law teachers and directors of academic support programs, when creating support programs we should be more concerned with isolation factors than traditional index numbers like GPA's and LSAT's. In my opinion, isolation will disproportionately affect students of color, older students and other non-traditional students regardless of index numbers. In other words, even if a student arrives with excellent predictors, those numbers cannot predict success if the student is isolated and thereby not exposed to successful new learning strategies. This may frequently explain why a disproportionate number of minority students with excellent undergraduate records either fail or perform below their ability during their first year. Isolation may also explain why LSAT numbers overpredict first-year performance for minority students but not majority students. Thus, especially with regard to academic support programs, supplemental educational assistance programs should be made available to all students of color regardless of index numbers, as well as other non-traditional students for whom increased isolation may be especially problematic.

 

Cathaleen A. Roach, A.B. Indiana University, J.D. University of Illinois, is Assistant Dean for Educational Services and Director of the Academic Support Program at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois.; Excerpted from: A River Runs Through It: Tapping into the Informational Stream to Move Students from Isolation to Autonomy, 36 Arizona Law Review 667-678, 697-699 (1994).
 

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