The Impact of Isolation on Academic Performance or
Isolation is the worst possible
Cathaleen A. Roach
"Isolation is the worst possible counselor," wrote an early 20th century writer and those
timeless words are particularly apt in modern legal education. The generic first-year law student
experience--described by at least two authors as "the dark night of the soul" --leaves many first-year
law students isolated and very alienated. Much of the literature has discussed the psychological
effects of isolation (e.g., alienation , withdrawal, and hostility ); however, too little attention has
been paid to the important academic effects of isolation.
There should be an increased awareness that the "distress" many law students experience is
not limited to how students feel. Isolation has important academic and institutional repercussions as
well. Institutionally, this isolation results in uneven testing and a potentially inaccurate, skewed
grade distribution for all students.
Additionally, isolation can especially burden minority and other non-traditional students,
causing them further prejudice. [I]solation often leads to poorer grades regardless of academic
ability. This is because exam grades do not necessarily measure ability. Instead, to a large extent
they may measure who has access to the essential survival information which is not generally taught
in the first-year classroom. Moreover, not only can isolation prevent minority and non-traditional
students from a fair assessment of their actual academic ability, but isolation may also
disproportionately impact minority students' job opportunities with law firms and law school
academic appointments as well. Thus, . . . isolation in [law school] . . . fosters continued long-term
segregation in the legal and academic communities.
|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).