Minority Issues

You'll bump into more black people at the Indiana State Fair than you will at the Indy Law atrium.

If you had told me at the beginning of the week that something happening at Indiana School of Law – Indianapolis would turn into a three-day Above the Law story, I would have said, “No dude, I’m not going to race-bait the Jews during Passover.”

But it turns out that my powers of racial inflammation were not needed for this Indy Law story. A student writing as “Invisible Man” managed to stoke racial passions at the school simply by finding reverse racism where few others could: in the banners hanging in the law school’s atrium. Indy Law Dean Gary Roberts found the student’s objection essentially incomprehensible, but we haven’t actually seen the law school atrium, to judge for ourselves just how oppressive these banners of black people might be to the white students that make up 80% of the Indy Law student body.

Until now. Finally, tipsters send us photos of the atrium banners, to put this whole controversy into perspective. I hope you brought your magnifying glasses to work today…

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Gary Roberts

Gary Roberts, the dean of Indiana School of Law – Indianapolis, is a bad ass. We’ve mentioned him before: we featured him in a Quote of the Day, when he said, “If you’re a law student and think you’ll make $140,000 right out of law school, you’re an idiot.” At the time I thought the line was a rare moment of honesty from just another law dean.

It would appear now that I was wrong. This is maybe just how Dean Roberts rolls, having the guts to tell the truth as he sees it to his own students.

Yesterday, we told you about the controversial email that someone calling himself “Invisible Man” sent to his fellow IndyLaw students. In the message, he claims he feels unwelcome at his law school because of three banners that prominently feature African-American law students. After our publication, the story made it around the internet, getting picked up by Jezebel and focusing people on a law school many were unfamiliar with.

Well, today Dean Roberts responded, and his message is pretty brilliant. And the copy is clean, so you can’t say I wrote it…

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I think we’ve all seen law schools or law firms conduct a “diversity campaign” through extremely selective photography. There might be only four people of color at your law school, but you can best believe that all four of them will show up in the brochure for prospective students. Your 100-person law firm might have only two brothers who can show up to work without wearing a uniform, but both of those dudes will magically end up in a central position on the law firm website.

Everybody knows the game. Black people, brown people, women, and people in the majority all know what the PR department is trying to do. Back when I was in law school, there was this sister in a wheelchair who had Harvard photographers following her around like paparazzi.

I never thought of these attempts to represent through photography what cannot be achieved in reality to be particularly problematic. I never thought that over-representing minorities in law school brochures was painful or offensive to the overwhelming majority that would therefore be underrepresented in the pictures. I guess I thought that one of the benefits of being in the majority is that you don’t need a stupid PR photo shoot to make you feel like you might be able to get through school without being discriminated against.

But maybe I was wrong about all that. Maybe there really is one law student in Indiana who is ready to blow the lid off of a serious case of reverse racism that has just been staring us right in the face…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Diversity matters. It matters for reasons of social justice. It matters because folks are tracking it, and it can be important to look good on those scales. It matters for reasons of trial strategy, because our defense team should look at least slightly like our jurors. In particular types of cases, diversity may be a terribly important consideration. Employers may, for example, want an African-American to defend a race discrimination case. (Or, in my old product liability life, we may have wanted women to defend breast implant or hormone replacement therapy cases. Or we may have looked for female expert witnesses for those cases. Pandering, thy name is litigator!)

Law firms know this, and those that are able now stress their commitment to diversity. Which brings me to today’s story.

A female colleague and I recently had lunch with folks from a firm that was looking for our business. (You’d be surprised how good I’m getting at those lunches. Whether or not I remember your name the next day is another matter, but I’m becoming a pro at eating.)

The outside lawyers pitched the diversity point fairly aggressively, telling us about their many highly compensated female partners and paying particular attention to my colleague when they did so.

When we left the lunch, my colleague said, “Well, that’s exactly the wrong way to sell diversity.”

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* If you root for your law school alma mater over your undergrad alma mater, you are the kind of unprincipled betrayer who deserves the very worst of all that life has to offer. [PrawfsBlawg]

* Did you know that university professors could get fired for appearing in burlesque shows? [Siouxsie Law]

* Some thoughts on what black prospective law students should consider when choosing a law school, from Yolanda Young. [On Being a Black Lawyer]

* Best. Deposition transcript. Ever. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Please, please, please, let there be many character and fitness boards who will ding this law student who stomped a bird to death. [Huffington Post]

* Happy Purim, everybody. And if you are an Irish Jew, I wish your liver the best.

Edgar J. Steele

I don’t think Idaho gets enough credit for being positively weird. Sure, Napoleon Dynamite did a good job of highlighting that state’s peculiar relationship with llamas and quesadillas. But what of the insane racial animus that resides in the Potato State?

(I don’t know if Idaho is the potato state. It should be, right? We’ll just assume it’s the potato state for these purposes.)

Idaho was the site of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s huge victory over the Aryan Nations in 2000, and even though that lawsuit largely bankrupted the organization, the state apparently is still home to remnants of the group. Who now fight delicious tacos. Or something.

The state is also home to one Edgar J. Steele, proud graduate of UCLA Law, old racist crank, and alleged contract-hit enthusiast….

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When you think about it, naming the band "Massa-Bossmans" would have been more ambiguous.

On Friday we wrote about the settlement agreed to by Cure Lounge, a club in Boston that was accused of discriminating against African-American patrons. In the comments, it seemed like some of our Southern readers where all too happy to point out that this example of racist behavior took place in the North.

Lord knows I’ve never said that racism is an exclusively Southern phenomenon. But I’ve met enough Southerners to know that they sometimes feel unfairly maligned just because of their Confederate past. Sure, I could argue that only Southerners would come up with the name like “Lady Antebellum” for a band — and only Southerners would defend that name as “merely” referring to a time before the Civil War, as if I’m supposed to be the idiot who forgets what was happening in the South before the Civil War. But whatever, the point is taken, modern racism exists North and South, East and West, probably in relatively equal “amounts,” if such a thing could be quantified.

But still, you have to give the South credit. When they go for it, they always seems to have more flair. They have a — what’s the word? — one might say “cavalier” way, at least at UVA Law, of going about racial intolerance.

It would be charming, if it wasn’t so damn disgusting…

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Let justice be done! Back in November, we told you about what went down during the most recent Harvard-Yale Game. A Boston Club, Cure Lounge, shut down a Game-related gathering, essentially because the black Harvard and Yale students were attracting too many other black people.

At the time, I was appalled, but not particularly hopeful that anything would happen to the owners of the Cure Lounge.

But I guess I underestimated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Sure, she ran one of the worst senatorial campaigns since Brutus went up against Mark Antony. But she was all over this issue….

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For all you know, everybody in this picture hates each other and are about to engage in gladiatorial combat.

We all know how important the U.S. News Law School Rankings are to our system of legal education. The jobs of law school deans depend on the rankings, and they therefore significantly impact what law schools are willing or able to do. It’s crazy that a for profit magazine has so much power over the future of legal education, but that power is well established and undeniable.

Given the importance of U.S. News, I understand why diversity proponents want the publication to start counting “diversity” as a data point when compiling the annual rankings. If you want law school deans to pay attention to something, you have to use small words and speak in the language of U.S. News. If the magazine started caring about law school diversity today, law schools would really start caring tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean including a “diversity” component in the rankings would be a good idea. That’s just a half measure (and a confusing one to boot) that doesn’t get the heart of any kind of real problem…

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Two people from my high school got into the same college I did. We were all in the top 10 of our class, but none of us were in the top 5. One was a white guy who was a brilliant piano player. The other was a white girl who excelled at sports. Then there was me. I had the “does lots of activities” application. You know the type of d-bag kid I’m talking about: debate this, mock trial that, sports, school plays, bands.

Also, I’m black. Do you think that might have had something to do with it? I hope it did, since it seems to me that my race is at least as much of a factor in what I may add to an incoming college class as whether I could play the piano or dominate in field hockey.

Of course, saying race can be a factor in college admissions is controversial. A certain segment of the population gets all bent out of sorts when a “deserving” white student potentially gets “passed over” because a college official gave a person of color “extra points” when making up the entering class of students.

I find these arguments totally irrational. If the top five students from my high school were passed over — three Jews and two Asians (you know, the real victims of affirmative action, if there are any) — then who exactly “took” their spots? Me, or the sports chick? And if an Asian guy “takes” my spot, but I bump down the piano player who didn’t score as well as I did, and the piano player takes the spot of some poor Hispanic kid who has never seen a piano in real life, would everybody say that we all got what we deserved?

Coming up with an effective way to balance all of the relevant factors in college admissions is hard. But when race is involved, people don’t want to deal with “hard,” and they don’t want to hear “complicated.” They want simple rules and a few platitudes they can recite on television. After yesterday’s Fifth Circuit decision upholding affirmative action at the University of Texas, the only question is whether the Supreme Court has the will and intellectual rigor to think through something hard, or whether the majority will want to fall back on truisms and clichés…

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