Encouraging diversity at law schools

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When asked if diversity played a role in their decisions on where to attend law school, a handful of minority law students in Indiana said while it wasn’t the biggest or only factor, it often was a consideration.

As the law school recruiting season is winding down and spring deadlines for law school applications start approaching, law school admissions offices have been paying attention to their recruiting efforts to encourage applicants of diverse backgrounds – whether they are underrepresented minorities, identify with different religions, have had different experiences in the job market, or are from different geographic locations – to apply and ultimately accept offers to attend their law schools.

diversity Students Angela Freeman, left, and Raphael Ortega, right, said Patricia Kinney, director of admissions for I.U. School of Law – Indianapolis, center, was helpful when they were applying to the school. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

In Indiana, representatives of the admissions offices of all four law schools, Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Valparaiso University School of Law, and Notre Dame Law School, said diversity is something that has been important to them for a while and that they actively seek out diverse applicants through similar methods.

Yet for the students, it seems to be a matter of personal attention from the law schools and factors other than the percentage of minorities who attend that ultimately won them over.

For instance, at Notre Dame School of Law, Melissa Fruscione, director of admissions and financial aid, said the admissions office has expanded its recruiting efforts, which has helped more diverse candidates learn about the school earlier in the application process.

Because the school is reaching applicants sooner, there has been more opportunity for communication with the applicants, which has improved outreach to more qualified candidates and a more personalized and custom approach to answering the candidates’ specific questions as opposed to generic concerns.

This also is the case at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, where Patricia Kinney, director of admissions for the Indianapolis law school, said she too appreciates it when applicants contact her with specific questions and concerns during the application process.

One student Kinney helped is Raphael Ortega, born and raised in New York City and now a 3L at the law school.

Ortega said because he grew up in a diverse environment, he couldn’t imagine life any other way.

But when he decided to move out of New York to the Midwest for a different experience in law school, which would include a lower cost of living, he expected the students would be a less diverse group than he was used to.

However, he said when he visited for an open house at the Indianapolis law school, he could see the diversity among the students, something he has continued to observe in his classes.

He added that the Black Law Student Association members at the Indianapolis law school won him over with their extremely friendly and helpful approach to answering his questions about their own experiences at the school.

While it sounds simple, he said that students he met at a law school fair who were representing other schools didn’t seem as engaged, which made a difference.

“All it takes it one experience,” he said. “I figured these were the people I would see all the time, and if I felt comfortable around them now, I would be comfortable around them later.”

A second-year, part-time student at the law school in Indianapolis, Angela Freeman, agreed.

Freeman, who worked for Eli Lilly in Indianapolis for a number of years before she decided to go to law school to become a patent attorney, also said diversity at the school wasn’t the only important factor, but it was still something she appreciated at the law school.

A bigger concern for her was how she would handle family issues and juggle her responsibilities as an older student. She said having other students going through the same things in her evening program has helped, and that Kinney helped her find the resources she needed.

Like Ortega, Freeman said she could see the diversity of the students in her classes and throughout the school, but she was also impressed with the diversity of perspectives in her classes due to the various educational and professional backgrounds of her peers in the evening program.

Latonya Brooks, a 2L at Valparaiso University School of Law who is active in her school’s BLSA chapter, also said that diversity wasn’t the biggest factor for her in choosing a school, but it was somewhat important.

Because she went to a college in the Midwest with a small percentage of minority students, she said, “diversity was not really on my mind when I was applying. It was not something I was going for, although, I didn’t want to go to an all or nothing school in either direction.”

Instead, she was more concerned about finding a school where the teachers were accessible to students.

She said this has continued to be her experience at the law school. She has been impressed that her school wasn’t trying “to weed out students – they want to let you in and keep you in.” She said that’s not to say that the school will let in just any applicant or that the professors don’t offer a challenging curriculum, but they want all students to succeed and are always available to help.

Another Valpo law student, Viet Pham, a 3L, said diversity was not initially an important factor in his decision. He said while he had lived in San Francisco before law school, known for a large Asian population, he was used to being in the minority so it wasn’t a big deal.

He chose Valparaiso because he wanted to move to the Midwest. He had friends who lived in the Chicago area and Indianapolis, so he researched a number of schools. Also, as a non-traditional student – he had graduated from college about 10 years before going back to school – he said that he has noticed a number of other non-traditional students, and he appreciates that his viewpoints and the viewpoints of others can only add to the classroom conversations.

Diann Lapin, executive director of admissions at Valparaiso University School of Law, said the admissions office focuses on the whole applicant – not just LSAT score or GPA. Those are still important, but not the most important part. She pointed out that the school’s website focuses on the diversity of its students and doesn’t mention LSAT scores of GPAs in the profile of the incoming classes.

Lapin and other representatives of admissions offices for Indiana law schools said they do appreciate when student organizations like a law school’s BLSA, Hispanic Law Student Association, Asian Law Students Association, Lambda Law, or other student organizations that focus on issues of underrepresented minority students will speak directly with students who have been accepted.

connison-jay-mug Connison

“Our students are some of the greatest sales people for the law school that we have,” said Jay Connison, dean of Valparaiso University School of Law. “The minority students are some of our greatest sales people.”

At I.U. Maurer School of Law, members of the minority student bar associations have worked with the admissions office to not only speak with students, but also to proactively send information about their organizations. This might include a calendar of events and information about how the organization is helpful for finding a mentor and for networking with other students and alums, said Dani Weatherford, director of recruitment and admissions for the law school in Bloomington.

weatherford Weatherford

Rubin Pusha, a 2L and president of BLSA, said he chose the school after he received a master’s from I.U. in Higher Education and Student Affairs. He considered moving back to the South; he’s originally from Savannah, Ga.

But he said he was won over by Weatherford and others in the admissions office and chose to stay in Indiana.

Now as a student, he enjoys working with the admissions office to contact admitted students to answer their questions. He said he experienced a bit of a culture shock when he first came to Indiana for his graduate degree. He earned his undergraduate degree at Albany State University in Albany, Ga., where about 98 percent of the students are African-American. He said that experience has helped him when speaking with students considering the Bloomington law school who may be unsure of how it might match their expectations, particularly questions they might have about being a minority at the school.

“BLSA members can answer their questions, whether they’re from the East Coast or the West Coast or the South or the Southwest, we can just have a candid conversation. A lot of people who have been admitted haven’t been here before, so we invite them to Spring Law Day,” he said.

Pusha added that the school can also help support admitted students who want to attend the Spring Law Day with financial assistance for travel costs and rides from the airport to the hotel. While at the school, students go on campus tours, and the minority student bar associations also host receptions for admitted students, which in turn offer networking opportunities with professors and other members of the legal community.

Accepted students also have an opportunity to try restaurants and the nightlife in Bloomington, “so we can show them they can have a good time here,” Pusha said.

But at the end of the day, the students agreed it wasn’t only because the schools were diverse that they chose them. It was the personal attention they received and how welcome they felt at the school, the kinds of academic opportunities they would have, and that they would be valued by their professors and fellow students, regardless of their backgrounds.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.