Inspiration and Resources for Bringing Doctrine and Diversity Into Law School Classrooms – JURIST – Commentary


Nicole P. Dyszlewski, Head of Referral, Education and Engagement at Roger Williams University Law School, presents a new book that guides law professors on how to teach diversity and equity in their freshman courses and invites those who are interested to join the conversation …

In April, a book I co-edited on the topic of integrating skills and issues of diversity, equity and social justice into the mainstream American 1L curriculum was published. While this is certainly not the first book to address this topic, Integrate doctrine and diversity adopts an innovative approach in its scope, organization, tone and user-friendliness. As I note in the introduction, our goal “will not try to convince you that diversity, equity and inclusion in law and legal academia is essential or important or vital or necessary or long overdue. Other authors have traveled this field with care and conviction. As editors, we have some freedom to define the boundaries of the work we have created instead of letting the subject boundaries define the work for us. In this case, we make a choice to answer the question How? ‘Or’ What and not Why. “

From the start, the aim of the project was to bring together and highlight the work of law professors who have done – and are doing successfully – the difficult work of recognizing, discussing, presenting, reflecting, studying and engaging with diversity in the 1L program. It was not a reflection on the importance of diversity in law school classrooms. It was not a question of convincing the professors that this is a good direction to follow. It was not intended to be a book about the traumas and invisibilities that our students of color (or students with disabilities, LGBTQIA students, female college students, etc.) face and experience. It was also not intended to change the hearts and minds of those who do not find value and sustenance in teaching diversity in 1L classes. Integrate doctrine and diversity aimed to help people who want to do this job – even and especially those who are afraid of getting it dirty.

We adopted this approach because it seemed obvious to us that teaching diversity in the doctrinal program 1L is difficult and necessary; and that the resource we envisioned – first-hand expertise with tools to support further study – did not yet exist. So that’s what we created and that’s our contribution to the conversation. It’s a manual, not a sales pitch.

Our choice to pursue this approach was based on the assumption that doing this work is important and needs discussion, resources, debate and support.

And yet, while it was so obvious to us – so obvious, in fact, that in the first sentence of the book we warn all readers that we refuse to engage in the discussion of its scope because it is so fundamental – I regret now that we did not say it up front. And so today I’m going to do it: It is essential to teach diversity skills throughout the law school curriculum, and especially in 1L doctrine courses.. And I say this not because I edited a book on the subject, but because our students are asking for it. And we have to listen to them.

Across the country, groups of law students – especially groups from the Association of Black Law Students (BLSA) and their members – have made demands on us (sometimes in the form of demands, petitions, statements or letters) as individuals and institutions. And while these demands may differ from law school to law school, universal themes emerge. One of these themes concerns the integration of diversity into the traditional doctrinal curriculum of law schools. Now.

The time has come to change our program and rethink our pedagogy. In truth, that time has come a long time ago, but we have been able to avoid it or ignore it or subvert or hide from it. But now it’s here, and the real work is happening in some schools and soon in others. Depending on who you are, what you teach, where you teach, and how you teach, this news can leave you excited, challenged, tired, scared, uncomfortable, worried, happy, relieved, or a combination of all of these things. But no matter what you think of what to expect, my post is one of optimism.

I am optimistic because law professors are experts in classroom management, especially those who have used the Socratic method. I am optimistic because law schools, and in particular a number of law school deans, are declaring their intention to allocate resources to this work. I am optimistic that giving context to the laws and cases taught in our classrooms benefits all of our students. And I am optimistic because there are techniques, cases, books and resources to support us in this work.

This year, to celebrate our book, RWU Law and CUNY Law launched a yearlong lecture series. Throughout this academic year, we will be highlighting the contributing authors of Integrate doctrine and diversity in discussions of how to navigate these changes in our curriculum. Our next event is scheduled for October 26 at 3:30 p.m. EST, and registration is free for everyone. This event will feature a discussion of one of the greatest challenges to integrating issues of race, gender, social justice, class and diversity into the law school doctrine classroom: the common fear of failing to not knowing how to react when something is wrong. with the debate. We will have an open and frank exchange of strategies to use when the classroom conversation becomes problematic.

The first event – a kickoff celebration – took place in September, and the recording is available here.

Please join us as we work together on these educational issues. We invite professors of law, from doctrinal to clinical. We invite law students, from those who have asked to those who are just curious to learn more. Together, with great vulnerability, grace and bravery, we will meet the demands of this generation of students and the next.

Nicole P. Dyszlewski is one of the editors of Integrating Doctrine and Diversity: Inclusion and Equity in the Law School Classroom. She is currently responsible for referral, teaching and engagement at RWU Law Library and Assistant Professor. She holds a BA from Hofstra University, a JD from Boston University Law School and an MLIS from the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She is a member of the Massachusetts State Bar and the Rhode Island State Bar. Her areas of interest are mass incarceration, access to justice and systems of racial and gender inequality in law. Nicole was the recipient of the 2020 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Volunteer Service Award and the 2015 AALL Emerging Leader Award.

Suggested citation: Nicole P. Dyszlewski, Inspiration and Resources for Integrating Doctrine and Diversity in Law School Classrooms, JURIST – Academic Commentary, October 21, 2021, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/10/Nicole-Dyszlewski-resources- diversity -inclusion-right-school /.


This article was prepared for publication by Gabrielle Wast, Associate Editor-in-Chief of JURIST. Please direct your questions or comments to commentary@jurist.org


The opinions expressed in JURIST comments are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of JURIST’s editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.


Nancy I. Romero

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