Do You Accept the Status Quo? It’s About Time to Shatter the Ceiling

The Shatter the Ceiling coalition is an initiative calling attention to systemic gender disparities at Harvard Law School.

Shatter the Ceiling started with a rumor: “Did you hear that not one woman got Magna Cum Laude last year?” my friend asked me over winter break. With a few minutes of research, this rumor proved untrue, but its origin was easily explainable. In 2011, approximately 30 percent of magna cum laude recipients were women. In 2012, the number remained unchanged.

A little more research led me to Adam Neufeld’s 2004 Study, “Study on Women’s Experiences at Harvard Law School,” on the HLS website. Adam Neufeld had access to 1L grades, other statistics and freedom to observe classrooms. He found male students were 50 percent more likely than women to speak voluntarily at least once in class; 40 percent of men ranked themselves in the top quintile in quantitative skills versus 11 percent of women, and; from 1999-2003, 14.4 percent of men were awarded magna cum laude versus 8.4 percent of women.

Reading Neufeld’s study, I became outraged that both subjective and quantitative gender disparities at HLS were an identified concern that no one spoke of or took public action to correct. I had often felt unwelcome as a woman at Harvard Law School, especially during my first semester, when all of my professors were male (Note: the administration has committed to having at least one female professor per section per 1L year, but has not committed to ensuring it occurs in the first semester). While I was relieved to see that I was not alone in my experience, eight years had passed since the study was conducted, yet nothing seemed to have changed.

Since this realization, a group of men and women, most recently under the auspices of the Women’s Law Association, have been researching, brainstorming and organizing to make a change.

We have uncovered more statistics that highlight the gender disparities across the board at HLS. Women comprise(d)

  • 9 out of 44 of this year’s incoming Harvard Law Review members (which has prompted a change in HLR application policies);
  • 29 percent of the Supreme Court clerkships from Harvard alum over the past six years;
  • 18 out of 60 of the magna cum laude honors recipients in 2012;
  • 7 out of 24 semi-rounds finalist in Ames 2013, and;
  • 18 women out of 92 current professors and assistant professors.

We feel these interrelated disparities in achievement reflect a patent injustice, as well as signal that the educational environment and system at HLS negatively affects the quality of life and education for all members of the law school community, especially minority groups. We cannot forget the historical dimension at issue—HLS excluded women until 1953, and women did not attend in significant numbers until the 1990s. The doors have opened, but we still have a long way to go to achieve parity.

Although the reasons for these disparities are surely complicated, and the solutions trickier still, the first step in eliminating this inequity is acknowledging it, and rejecting it as the status quo. We know that women and men enter HLS equally capable. We are asking the community to raise awareness of the disparities that exist, support the coalition as we investigate the root causes of these disparities, and commit to long-term goals for change. We all have a role to play in bettering our school for all of its members.

We invite you to join us as we Shatter the Ceiling. Please come out for our Kick-off Event, this Wednesday, March 13, 7 pm, in Milstein West B, and sign your name onto our solidarity letter:

 

SHATTER THE CEILING SOLIDARITY LETTER:

As members of the Harvard Law School community, we are deeply concerned about the gender disparities at Harvard Law School. These disparities particularly concern us because they affect honors that often serve as passports to positions of leadership and power. For example, the disparities are salient in the makeup of Harvard Law Review, Latin Honors, Ames Moot Court Competition, and post-graduate clerkships.

We know that our male and female peers are equally capable. We believe that men, women and all members of HLS should have equal opportunity to reap the benefits of this institution. It is clear that these disparities signal the existence of deeper, systemic problems in the structure of legal education at HLS, which adversely affect all students and their development as lawyers of the 21st century;

Out of concern for our fellow HLS members, and ourselves, we pledge our support to the Shatter the Ceiling coalition, as we work together to:

1. ELEVATE the status of women at Harvard Law School by achieving actual gender parity, measured not only by closing statistical disparities, but also by building a healthier, more effective educational environment.

2. INVESTIGATE,

  • Gather data on the problem;
  • Speak with administrators, students, and professors to learn more not only about women’s quantifiable experiences at HLS, but also about their subjective experiences;
  • Address the ways in which these gendered barriers intersect with and reinforce obstacles affecting members of all minority communities, and
  • Rigorously study the pedagogy of the law school.

3. CONTINUE TO BUILD THE COALITION, and

  • Partner with professors, student groups, administrators and the greater Harvard community to enact change.

4. BRAINSTORM AND ENACT SOLUTIONS.

  • Develop creative and targeted short-term and long-term responses to the gender disparities at HLS.

Demographics of BSA, Law Review, HLAB

2012.10.19 Demographics

 

According to the Board of Student Advisors, approximately 33 percent of its members self-identified as female, 33 percent self-identified as males and 33 percent did not report their gender. According to the Harvard Law Review, approximately 25 percent of its 88 members are female and 75 percent are males. According to the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, approximately 40 percent of its 51 members self-identified as female, 44 percent self-identified as male and 17 percent did not report their gender.

According to the BSA, approximately 17 percent of its 42 members self-identified as non-white, 50 percent are whites and 33 percent did not report their race. Law Review did not have data on the racial composition of their current board of editors. According to HLAB, 31 percent of its 51 members self-identified as non-white, 52 percent self-identified as white and 17 percent did not report their race.

According to the BSA, approximately 2 percent of its 42 members self-identified as Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender or Queer, 64 percent did not self-identify as LGBTQ and 33 percent did not report. Law Review did not have data on the sexual orientation of its members. According to HLAB, 2 percent of its 48 members self-identified as LGBTQ, 64 percent did not self-identify as LGBTQ and 33 percent did not report their sexual orientation.

As stated by their respective presidents, all three organizations have policies against releasing the confidential demographic data of applicants. All three organizations are composed of 2Ls and 3Ls.

“We are disappointed that this year’s Law Review has a low number of women editors and are continuing to investigate why this occurred.  In the meantime, we plan to continue our women’s outreach efforts, and we strongly encourage incoming 1L women to reach out to current Law Review editors for more information and to take the writing competition in May.” Law Review President Conor Tochilin, Law ’13 and Business ’13, said.

According to HLAB President Tim Visser, Law ’13, “HLAB believes the categories listed reflect only a fraction of what we as an organization consider to be ‘diversity.’  HLAB values diversity in all its forms — both as a worthwhile end on its own, but also because our work as a legal services organization makes a diverse membership essential to our success.”

Law Review 25 Percent Female

hlr

The upcoming acadmic year’s Law Review is 25 percent female, according to Law Review President Conor Tochilin, Law ’13 and Business ’13. This represents an 8 percent drop in female membership from the last academic year.

“As is true every year, this year’s writing competition was extremely competitive. We are disappointed that this year’s editor selection process produced a very low number of women editors despite our robust outreach efforts last spring, and we are currently investigating why this occurred.” Tochilin said, “This year, we plan to continue our women’s outreach efforts, and we strongly encourage incoming 1L women to reach out to current Law Review editors for more information and to take the writing competition in May.”

Tochilin also provided a chart containing the Law Review’s female membership since 2005.

Courtesy of Harvard Law Review

Demographics of BSA, Law Review, HLAB

2012.4.16 Demographics

According to the Board of Student Advisors, approximately 48 percent of its 42 members self-identified as female, 43 percent self-identified as males and nine percent did not report their gender. According to the Harvard Law Review, approximately 33 percent of its 88 members are female and 67 percent are males. According to the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, approximately 40 percent of its 48 members self-identified as female, 44 percent self-identified as male and 17 percent did not report their gender.

According to the BSA, approximately 14 percent of its 42 members self-identified as racial minorities, 76 percent are whites and ten percent did not report their race. Law Review did not have data on the racial composition of their current board of editors. According to HLAB, 31 percent of its 48 members self-identified as racial minorities, 52 percent self-identified as white and 17 percent did not report their race.

According to the BSA, approximately five percent of its 42 members self-identified as Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender or Queer, 66 percent did not self-identify as LGBTQ and ten percent did not report their race. Law Review did not have data on the sexual orientation of its members. According to HLAB, 15 percent of its 48 members self-identified as LGBTQ, 69 percent did not self-identify as LGBTQ and 17 percent did not report their race.

As stated by their respective presidents, all three organizations have policies against releasing the confidential demographic data of applicants. All three organizations are composed of 2Ls and 3Ls.

According to HLAB President Tim Visser, Law ’13, “the categories listed reflect only a fraction of what we as an organization consider to be diversity.”

“Each year, the Editorial Board performs extensive outreach efforts to encourage all 1Ls to compete in the [Law Review] Competition and these efforts are continuing in earnest this year,” Law Review President Conor Tochilin, Law ’13 and Business ’13, said.

According to BSA President Jillian London, Law ’13, “The BSA is committed to representing the entire student body and can only do so by having members with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. We intend to continue in our efforts to attract a wide array of applicants next year and beyond.”

The Office of Admissions’ Class Profiles for the 2010 and 2011 entering classes indicate that 48 percent of those two classes are female and 37 percent are students of color.

Transparency, Big and Small

The first semester of law school is supposed to be the hardest. Students are thrown in to sink or swim, though no one knows until late January if they’re actually drowning or if it just feels that way. But I would suggest that second semester presents its own challenges. Like a new relationship after the honeymoon phase, the rush of excitement has worn off, and each party starts to see the annoying habits of the other. Harvard Law School, I’m afraid that the glamour has worn thin.

I have found myself complaining about many things, mostly petty, a few more substantive. On the former end, why did the free coffee in Lewis dry up? Why isn’t the computer lab in Wasserstein open 24 hours? Sometimes, I just don’t have time to hike over to Langdell to get something printed. On the more substantive side, why is on-campus housing so overpriced? Why is SPIF funding so low, and why do 1Ls only get credit for eight weeks when many positions require a ten-week commitment? Finally, we all know that students complain constantly about the quality of instruction. Inevitably, whether large or small, a complaint takes the form of “for $50,000 a year, I should be getting _______.”

The spectacular Student Government election from before spring break got me thinking about budget transparency in general. One candidate’s platform promised to disclose the Student Government’s budget; as students, don’t we have the right to know where our money is going? After all, these officers are our elected representatives.

But the Student Government forms only one small part of Harvard Law School. Wouldn’t you like to know exactly how the Law School as a whole spends its money? The Law School is included in the “Income and Expenses” section of the Harvard University Fact Book, published annually by The Office of the Provost. A two-page fact sheet provides a breakdown of income only for the university as a whole. Expenditures are disaggregated for the individual schools, but each school discloses its spending in eight generic high-level categories, e.g. “Salaries and Wages” or “Equipment and Supplies.” It’s a good start, but more specificity is needed for it to be truly informative.

The analogy between Student Government and the Law School isn’t perfect: the Law School doesn’t purport to represent students’ interests and its officials are not elected by the students (nor should they be). Furthermore, it’s true that consumers of a service have no oversight rights. Just because I pay a subscription to my gym, that doesn’t mean I get to see its balance sheet. But Harvard Law School isn’t just a store that sells education. It’s a community whose strength is derived from its people. We all participate, and we all contribute. This request is not meant to cast any slurs on anyone. Overall, I am very happy and have full faith that things are being done properly. But I am curious. And since Student Government can’t articulate an acceptable reason for concealing its budget, I now wonder what the law school might say.

Geng Chen is a 1L. Her column runs every other Tuesday. 

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.