This picture is worth a thousand diversity brochures.

Duke Law School is known for a lot of things: its top 14 ranking, 100% employment rate, and crown as douchiest law school in the nation. It’s not known as a friendly school towards black people.

Why? Well, that’s what Duke Law wants to find out. A tipster reports that Duke Law has been sending around a questionnaire to the few minority students currently at the school. It aims to figure out what recruiters should tell minority students thinking about matriculating at Duke Law.

You know what they say — there is no such thing as a stupid question…

To be clear, I applaud what Duke Law is doing here. If you have a problem (and Duke does have a problem when it comes to minority recruitment), there’s no harm in asking how you can do better. It speaks well of the school that it’s trying to figure out how to attract more minorities to the school.

Of course, I would never go to freaking Duke for college, law school, or to pick up a $1 million check that they told me was waiting for me in the admissions office. Why? Well, let’s look at some of the questions Duke is asking:

1. DURHAM: Many don’t think of the South as welcoming to people with diverse backgrounds. What were your concerns and fears in considering moving to Durham for three years? How have those fears been confirmed or dispelled?

Yeah, one funny part of the fallout from my “$250K and not rich” post was the number of people who told me to move out of New York City. Easy for white people to say. You can go nearly anywhere in the whole country and expect to be treated fairly and feel racially comfortable. Black people can’t say that. To paraphrase Chris Rock: “black people only live in five places in this country — New York, L.A., D.C., Atlanta, Chicago — ain’t no black people in Minnesota. The only black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett.”

Not a whole lot of brothers in Durham either. If I had to go live there for work, fine. You gotta do what you gotta do. But for school? For law school, where part of my education will involve studying some of the hot-button racial issues of the day? No thanks. Let Crusading Black Man X go test his legal wits in the belly of the beast. I’ll go argue about the legal justification for racial profiling in some place where I’m not afraid that I’ll get lynched for having a healthy respect for civil rights.

2. DUKE: Was there anything about Duke University’s reputation or that of Duke Law School that concerned you as a prospective or incoming student? How have those concerns been confirmed or dispelled?

Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Umm… let’s just say that even though it’s not their favored sport, lots of minority law students have heard of lacrosse.

The thing is that, just like the lacrosse case, Duke’s racially frosty reputation is probably unfair and almost certainly blown completely out of proportion. I’m sure that on the ground, Duke Law isn’t more or less “unwelcoming” towards minorities than any number of law schools. Does anybody really think Duke is some kind of racist place while, say, UVA is a bastion of harmony?

But it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if Duke Law is in fact unwelcoming or not. The question is, why would you take the risk? Really, it’s hard enough to be a black person in this society why risk going to a place that has a history and reputation of being douchey when it comes to racial issues. Again, let some other brother be the hero. You’ve got to pick your battles in life, and — newsflash — your job as a black person doesn’t have to involve “educating” white people around you about how to not be racist. Maybe Duke isn’t any worse than Cornell on these issues, but I’ve yet to hear the argument that Duke is somehow better or more racially progressive than northern schools.

And I suspect that Duke is actually “worse” when it comes to racial issues than a school like Cornell. That’s because no matter what lip service the administration plays to diversity, the quality of your student life is still going to come down to the students. We know there are a lot of lawyer types who are racist; we know that a lot of them hate affirmative action (don’t jump to a conclusion I didn’t make, being against AA is not that same as being a racist). You just have to read the ATL comments on any post I write (especially posts like this one) to know that there is a lot of unresolved racial animus in the legal community.

How many of these people (who, to be clear, are in the minority everywhere) go to Duke, versus a place like Cornell? While Duke is doing everything it can to get more minority applicants to matriculate to the school, is it also doing everything it can to keep racists out? A Harvard kid — a kid who was struggling to get callbacks despite a scorching hot market — once called me an “AA admit” while we were arguing about something totally unrelated. Half of the (mostly white) Three Aces crowd came down on his head (rhetorically) before I even had a chance to punch him in the mouth (maybe rhetorically). Many of the students who defended me also disagreed with affirmative action in admissions. But the thought that someone would discount or dismiss an argument simply because of my race really didn’t sit well up in Cambridge. I was very proud to be an HLS student that day.

Would that same thing happen for me at Duke? Are you sure?

3. LAW SCHOOL: What were your fears about law school in general? Have those fears been confirmed or dispelled during your time at Duke Law?

4. DUKE LAW SCHOOL: What aspects of the Duke Law experience do you think might be most appealing to minority students considering law school?

I would love to hear the answer to question four. Seriously. I would love for a minority student at Duke to explain to me what’s great about Duke from a minority perspective.

See, former ATL editor Kashmir Hill went to Duke for college. And she tells me that the place’s reputation as a racial battleground is a little overblown. Now, I appreciate and value Kash’s perspective, but “you won’t actually get lynched on your way to the dining hall,” isn’t exactly a reason to proactively go to Duke.

I went to school just outside of Boston, and Boston is the most racially f***ed up city I’ve ever lived in (and I lived in Indianapolis for 13 months, 9 days, and 13 hours). But at least I received a Harvard degree for my trouble. While the Duke Law credential is great, is it appreciably better than a Georgetown J.D.? So much better that it’s worth it as a minority to put yourself in Durham for three years as opposed to D.C.?

If there’s an argument for that, I’d love to hear it. Seriously. Email me. I want to learn.

5. DEMONSTRATING DIVERSITY: What does diversity mean at Duke Law, and how is it demonstrated within the community, the curriculum, or the student experience?

Much as I love question four, I hate question five. You demonstrate diversity by having a diverse class of people and opinions. If you don’t have that, then there’s not a thing you can do to fool people. I don’t care how many multicultural-looking pictures you place in your admissions brochure.

The last question is so plaintive that I think it’s kind of cute:

6. ADVICE: What advice do you have for diverse students considering Duke Law School?

They should have written that question in ALL CAPS, like this: “BLACK PEOPLE, WHAT DO YOU WANT? JUST TELL US WHAT YOU WANT FROM US!!!”

Sadly, there is no simple answer. Duke Law was founded in the antebellum south. It took them over one hundred years to build up its reputation as a place that wasn’t “welcoming” to minority students. Lots of schools in the south have that kind of history. It’s a bit impatient for Duke and other southern law schools to think that all of that history can be washed away because they started caring about diversity five minutes ago.

You can say this about any group of people that has suffered systematic oppression anywhere in the world: they have long memories.


comments sponsored by

376 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments