Law School Celebrates Diversity

Jenna Goldman '18

 From left to right: SBA Diversity Committee chairs Jeri Brown '19, Aparna Datta '19, and Muskan Mumtaz '19. Eric Hall/ Virginia Law Weekly

From left to right: SBA Diversity Committee chairs Jeri Brown '19, Aparna Datta '19, and Muskan Mumtaz '19. Eric Hall/Virginia Law Weekly

Caplin Pavilion buzzed with students and faculty who gathered around tables manned by representatives from each affinity group at the law school. UVa Law’s annual Diversity Week culminated in a celebration of culture last Thursday in Caplin Pavilion. 

“It is so important to highlight diverse students in the law,” said Latin American Law Organization (LALO) President Robbie Pomeroy ‘19 as he danced along to the Bollywood music blaring from the South Asian Law Student Association (SALSA) table. 

Elyse Moy ‘18, President of Women of Color, marveled at the event and how her affinity group has grown since her 1L year. “I got involved in WOC as a 1L rep, back when Dana Wallace [‘16] revived the club,” said Moy. “Kate [Duvall] is always reaching out to us and the school at large has shown us so much support throughout the last few years.” Of the event, Moy said “its another great visual representation of how the school and the students support and value diversity.” 

The Black Law Student Association (BLSA) gave out raffle tickets to participants who could answer questions correctly about black culture and black excellence, Jeopardy style. At the end of the event, a name was drawn at random from the tickets and the lucky student received a diploma frame from the bookstore. 

 From left to right: Gina Sato '19 and Calla Zhou '19 serve fire ramen. Eric Hall/ Virginia Law Weekly

From left to right: Gina Sato '19 and Calla Zhou '19 serve fire ramen. Eric Hall/Virginia Law Weekly

The first question came from the category “Famous black lawyers.” “(Blank) LaVaughn Robinson, from the Southside of Chicago, we miss you!” Answer: “Who is Michelle Obama?”

A 1L was stumped on the next question: “The 1948 case that outlawed racial covenants.” Luckily she was able to ‘phone a friend.’ “She was only a few weeks into Constitutional Law, I had to help her!” said Dean Goluboff who answered, “What is Shelley v. Kraemer?” 

Devyne Byrd ’19, who ran the jeopardy style game for BLSA, looked forward to the week of events that places a spotlight on minority students. “It’s nice being in the loop for once,” Byrd said. Pol Minfuet, an LL.M. from Belgium, agreed with Byrd; “I have never seen this type of event before! We just don’t have this sort of celebration of ethnic and racial differences at my school in Belgium.”

The Jewish Law Student Association table had Mezza wraps, dates, fruit, and seeds in celebration of Tu BiShvat, a holiday known as “the birthday of the trees” celebrated this time of year. President Dascher Pasco ‘18 loved participating in the event. “I think there are lots of values in Judaism that are relevant in law, and it’s cool to have an opportunity to share that with the school.” 

 SBA President and class prankster Steven Glendon '18 mischievously pours a beer. Eric Hall/  Virginia Law Weekly

SBA President and class prankster Steven Glendon '18 mischievously pours a beer. Eric Hall/ Virginia Law Weekly

LAMBDA gave away Pride shirts to those who could answer three LGBT history related questions. Chandler Walpole ‘20 and Rachel Leary ‘20 fired off questions to the line of students hoping to win the swag. 

“I moved from New York City, so I was initially concerned I wouldn’t find a community here,” said Leary. “But I was pleasantly surprised by the number of LGBT students at the law school,” she said. 

Next to LAMBDA, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) held a “fire ramen-eating contest.” “You have to finish your plate of spicy noodles without showing any outward signs of pain,” explained Maggie Yiin ‘19. This reporter can confirm the challenge was a lot harder than it looked.   

Good thing the SALSA table provided mango juice to quell the heat. “This is the Capri-Sun of South Asia; it’s my childhood,” said Muskan Mumtaz ’19, who along with Aparna Datta ‘19 and Jeri Brown ‘19 chaired Diversity Week. Mumtaz is also in the process of founding the Muslim Law Student Association (MLSA). 

Diversity Week began on Monday, with the panel “He Said, She Said to Me, Too: Successes and Shortcomings in the Law of Sexual Harassment.” Professors Coughlin, Ferzan, and Rutherglen discussed changes in criminal law surrounding sexual harassment and #MeToo in context of other historical feminist movements. 

Professor Coughlin explained that in Classical Greek and Roman literature, the practice of “cutting off women’s tongues after they have been raped” was a tactic to silence from speaking out against their attacker. Coughlin sees the #MeToo Movement as a response to contemporary “tongue cuttings,” such as non-disclosure agreements, procedural hurdles to seeking justice, and internet trolling that aims to intimidate women into silence.  

Professor Ferzan discussed how the American Law Institute is struggling to keep up with the movement. “So many areas, many would argue, are over-criminalized. In the area of sexual harassment and assault we have the problem of radical under-criminalization.” Ferzan notes that the individuals who have always borne the brunt force of the criminal justice system have been the poor and people of color. “We need to think about who our potential defendants and who our potential victims will be under a new system.”

While Ferzan and Coughlin differed on changes to the criminal approach, they did agree on one thing: loosening the mandatory disclosure rules within the University Title IX structure. Coughlin said that throughout her tenure, students have come to her about sexual harassment situations. “They tell me, ‘I don’t need a therapist, I need legal advice before I decide to report,’ and that’s not something I can give anymore because of the mandatory reporting requirements.”

On Tuesday, practitioners from prominent New York and DC law firms gathered to discuss how firms are meeting the demands of clients to provide diverse attorney teams. 

“Our clients identify that a diverse product is a better product,” said Kim Walker of Willkie Farr & Gallagher. 

While law firms have made recruiting women, LGBT, and attorneys of color a clear priority, retention is also an issue of concern. “If you do not feel comfortable in your workplace, you will leave,” noted Dana Weekes ‘09 of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. The next step for law firms is how to create a more inclusive environment so the talented attorneys will stay. “A lot of law firms are grappling with this from a cultural standpoint” said Weekes. 

Some firms have tackled this problem by setting up affinity groups within the firm. Lisa Morales ‘16 of Sullivan and Cromwell is a member of her firm’s black and Latino group and the firm’s women’s group where she said she meets regularly to socialize and find mentorship. 

 “Unpacking Privilege” concluded the week’s formal speakers events on Wednesday. The experience-based dialogue on diversity has been a staple in the program for the last three years, where students share their personal stories of adversity, triumph, and how they grapple with privilege. 

After the four students concluded their speeches, the audience broke into small discussion tables to reflect on what was said and how we can identify our own privilege to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in the law school. Datta received encouraging feedback about the capstone event, “I know one person who told me they felt as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders after attending the event. A lot of times we don’t realize everything that is weighing us down—especially since we’re so busy in this law school environment.”