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Grants Reports

The Educational Diversity Project: Analysis of Longitudinal and Concurrent Student and Faculty Data (GR 10-01)

by Charles E. Daye and Abigail T. Panter, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Walter R. Allen, The University of California, Los Angeles; and Linda F. Wightman, The University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Executive Summary

The Educational Diversity Project (EDP) is a national, longitudinal, and multimethod study of law students that assesses how student body racial/ethnic diversity may affect the educational environment. By assessing a broad set of experiential and psychological characteristics, we seek to understand (a) the individual differences that incoming students have upon entry to law school and how these differences do or do not relate to race/ethnicity (and other personal characteristics); and (b) how individual differences identified during the first weeks of law school may frame a student's legal training, interaction with classmates with diverse viewpoints, and personal decisions about how they will use their legal training in employment after graduation. The study also examines to what extent student variability would be attenuated if there were no racial diversity.

Over 8,000 incoming students from 64 ABA-approved law schools completed the EDP baseline assessment during the first weeks of law school and described how race and other personal factors related to diversity in student background, family background, lifetime experience, sociopolitical attitudes, educational expectations, and career aspirations. At graduation, a subset of these individuals completed a follow-up survey to assess how their experiences in law school, attitudes, and plans for the future may have been affected by the diversity of their law school class. These data were supplemented by LSAC law school application information and first-year averages (FYAs) in law school. Focus groups with a smaller cohort of 203 law students from 11 schools in each law school year allowed us to probe the nuances of law student life each year. Finally, to learn about pedagogy with respect to discussing race in the classroom and legal analyses of cases, law faculty from the schools in the random sample were interviewed.

Major findings showed that race/ethnicity is associated with (a) differences in student backgrounds, attitudes and belief systems, and expectations at the start of law school; (b) differences in student academic experiences, personal burden and resources, and professional aspirations during law school; and (c) changes in perceptions about the importance of diversity in an educational setting and prejudices as a result of law school. Professors differed in their attitudes about the importance of student diversity, believing that student diversity has significant beneficial effects on the quality of the educational classroom environment and the learning process and yet not reporting that they themselves have changed their classroom behavior due to student diversity in the classroom. They reported that they contributed to enhancing student racial/ethnic diversity in many different ways in their law school environment.

From our open-ended interview sections, we expect to see that variances among professors will be influenced in particular by whether professors teach first-year or upper class courses, general or specialized courses, or small or large courses; and by whether professors perceive that the subject matter of the course has specific content that might be relevant—or perceived by students or professors to be relevant—to particular racial or other perspectives. To date, our data from students and faculty show that racial/ethnic student body diversity in law school provides a rich context for student learning, interacting, and understanding for students and faculty members.

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