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Minority Group Activities in Law Schools: Key Questions to Consider

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    The first year of law school can be a difficult, demanding time of adjustment academically, personally, and socially. Furthermore, despite the fact that law school has become much more "user-friendly" in the past couple of decades, it remains an isolating and alienating experience at times. Minority students, perhaps even more than other students, may feel alone or isolated, both inside and outside the classroom. Affiliation with a minority group may provide you with a sense of belonging and make adjusting to the first year a bit easier.


    Law school can be stressful, making some personal "down" time essential for your health and success. Therefore, you should carefully consider which extracurricular activities you want to participate in and how much time you are willing to devote. Chances are, you will want to participate in several law school activities, both minority and non-minority related. But belonging to several groups can be very time-consuming. You need to consider time constraints when planning your level of commitment. Don't overburden yourself, and don't neglect personal time to enjoy your favorite non-law-related activities or just to "veg" out.

    You should realize that group involvement may put you in some uncomfortable situations. For example, gay, lesbian, or bisexual students who become openly and heavily involved in the gay law students' association may be labeled "queer activists" because of this association. Although labeling of this sort should not discourage your involvement, it is something to think about before becoming involved. If you choose to respond to other students who question your reasons for participating in certain groups and activities, honesty is usually your best weapon. Tell them exactly why it is important for you to be involved.


Harvard Law School has several organizations for those interested in getting in touch with individuals of Asian ethnicity. These include the Asia Law Society and APALSA (Asian Pacific American Law Students Association). The groups sponsor fun social events, big sib/little sib programs, community outreach, speaker's, study tip sessions, interview and job search tips, and organizational meetings. The groups have gatherings with similar organizations at other graduate schools in the community as well. Your degree of involvement is up to you, be it largely social or politically active as well. -LILY SO, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL STUDENTS OF COLOR
  • Student associations (for example, Black Law Students Association)
  • Law reviews and journals focused on issues of ethnic identity (for example, Latino Law Review)
  • Law-related and non-law-related community service projects that serve the local minority community

  • Political action groups
  • Clinical programs
  • Student associations (for example, Women's Law Association, Women of Color Collective)
  • Clinical programs focused on women's issues (for example, Domestic Violence Project)
  • Law reviews and journals focused on women's issues, gender, and feminism (for example, Women's Law Journal, Journal of Law and Feminism)
  • Law-related and non-law-related community service projects that serve women (for example, battered women's shelters and rape crisis hot lines)
  • Political action groups
  • Student associations (for example, Lambda Law Students Association)
  • Political action groups
  • Law reviews and journals focused on issues of gender, sexuality, and gay rights (for example, Journal of Law and Sexuality)
  • Clinical programs or volunteer opportunities relating to gay rights (for example, Lambda Legal Defense Fund)
  • Social activities for members of the community
  • Religion-based student associations (for example, Jewish Law Students Association, Islamic Law Students Association)
  • Law reviews and journals focused on law, religion, and morality (for example, Journal of Law and Religion)
  • Political action groups
  • Religious services
  • Law-related and non-law-related community service projects that serve particular religious communities

Sometimes minority students feel both internal and external pressures to affiliate almost exclusively with their relevant minority community and, in the process, neglect connections with the mainstream, non-minority community. In the eyes of some in the minority community, a lack of total commitment is a sign of "selling out" or being ashamed of your heritage, background, or sexual identity. As a minority student, you need to start thinking about how much of a commitment you are willing to make and how you will deal with students who question your level of commitment.

Remember that you are not playing an all-or-nothing game. You can affiliate with your relevant minority community and not totally disconnect yourself from the larger mainstream community. In seeking a balance, you are likely to find a profound sense of belonging in the minority community, without losing the benefits of friends, organizations, and activities unrelated to your minority status.

Like any group, minority groups have their own tensions, differences, and divisions. Invariably, someone will fall into the minority, even in a minority group. For example, you may be a conservative in a traditionally liberal gay community or a feminist in a religious community that has always had conservative views about women's roles. There is nothing wrong with having different views, but you may want to think about how you will respond to others who question your beliefs. You may even inspire discussion within your minority community about some of these differences. Constructive (and sometimes heated) political and moral discussion is a definitive aspect of the law school experience both in- and outside minority groups.


Like most colleges, most law schools offer courses in minority studies (for example, Feminist Legal Theory, Gender and the Law, Gay Legal Theory, and Race and the Law). Because of the usual absence of issues of race, gender, sexuality, and religion from traditional law school coursework, minority students may feel particularly drawn to these courses. Although "majoring" in minority legal studies during law school may not be possible, undertaking a planned, coherent, and comprehensive course of study in one or more minority legal fields is quite feasible.

If you decide to structure your law school studies with a focus on minority issues, you should consider complementing your interest in minority legal studies with a more traditional legal field. For example, just about all areas of minority legal studies are complementary to Constitutional Law and Theory, Legal History, Legal Theory, and Critical Legal Theory. Furthermore, to round out your studies, you should consider doing relevant clinical work and being involved in a journal or law review related to your interest in minority legal studies.

Although it may seem far off now, decisions about what you might do after law school must be made very soon after you begin your legal studies. One such decision for all students, and especially for minority students, is whether to pursue a legal career in nonprofit, public interest, or civil rights fields. For example, the struggle for black equality in America was precipitated by civil rights litigation in the 1950s. Today, some of the most interesting and effective work in the field of gay rights is occurring through impact litigation and legislative advocacy. Although this career path has its obvious negatives and positives, it is an option you ought to consider as you prepare for law school and being a member of the legal profession.

Harvard Law School.


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