BLSA panel focuses on diversity, black enrollment
By Marcela Suter
The importance of diversity and declining black law student enrollment were among the topics of a panel discussion, “50 Years, Now What? The State of the Black Student at UF Law,” sponsored by the W. George Allen Chapter of the Black Law Students Association Oct. 23 in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom. The panel included Professor Kenneth Nunn, Professor Michelle S. Jacobs, Dean Robert Jerry, and Assistant Dean for Admissions Michelle Adorno.
In 2012, UF Law admitted 38 black law students, but only 10 accepted in a class of 287. BLSA President Brandon Campbell (2L) contacted some individuals who did not accept admission to UF, and the primary reason cited by black students who enrolled elsewhere was that other law schools offered them better financial aid packages.
Dean Jerry noted the same thing in other data assembled by the UF Law Admissions Office.
“There are many factors in a student’s decision about where to go to law school, but the primary reason African-American enrollment declined this year at UF Law was insufficient financial aid,” Dean Jerry said. “The relative lack of scholarship resources at UF Law, when compared to other law schools with which we compete, affects all students, but we see in the data that too many African-American students whom we admitted and wanted to enroll at UF chose to go to other schools that were able to create larger financial aid packages.”
According to BLSA and Office of Admissions data, black law student enrollment decreased significantly from 2010 to 2012. From 2007 to 2010, total enrollment at the law school declined by 19 percent, but because African-American enrollment declined 6 percent in that same time period, the percentage of blacks enrolled at the college increased from 5.9 percent in 2007 to 6.8 percent in 2010. But a significant decline in enrollment in 2012 has caused the percentage of blacks enrolled in the college to decline to 4.8 percent, even though the percentages of racial and ethnic minority students enrolled in the college from 2010 to 2012 are the law school’s largest since 2002.
“Because we had a relatively large black graduating class in the spring of 2012, the low fall 2012 enrollment has led to a significant decline in overall black enrollment,” Jerry explained. He said the proportion of blacks in the college exceeded 6 percent in 2009, 2010, and 2011, largely due to black entering class enrollment exceeding 8 percent in 2009 and 2010. “Those two years were among the highest for black entering class enrollment since One Florida.“
Dean Jerry has created the Diversity and Admissions Task Force to identify short-term and long-term strategies to help boost black enrollment and improve the diversity of the J.D. applicant pool. It is co-chaired by Professor Sharon Rush and Florida Bar President-elect Eugene Pettis (JD 85), the first black elected to lead The Florida Bar. The committee consists of faculty, students and alumni.
“Diversity is important in the law school – and in legal education generally – because without it, we cannot achieve diversity in the legal profession, which is of vital importance to our justice system, our democracy, and ultimately our country,” Jerry said.
Event co-organizer Miaya McCray (3L), immediate past president of BLSA and director of community service for the southern regional board of BLSA, which includes nine states in the South, believes that in order to recruit more black students there will have to be a collaborative and transparent effort between the administration, students and alumni.
“Financial aid is of grave importance in retaining new black students but it is only a piece of the puzzle. Reputation among current students and black alumni is extremely important to students when choosing schools as well. To that end, administration should work to facilitate teamwork among currently enrolled students and the Office of Alumni Affairs in reaching out to black alumni who can serve as supplemental resources to the efforts of the administration in recruitment and securing more scholarship funds.” McCray said. “As a heralded flagship institution in the state of Florida, 10 just won’t do.”
Increasing or even maintaining black enrollment is a challenge for law schools nationwide. The number of black law school applicants in the southeastern U.S. declined 21 percent between 2010 and 2012, and nationwide declined 14.5 percent over the same period. On Being a Black Lawyer magazine compiles a list of what it considers the “Top 25 National Law Schools for Black Students.” In terms of black student enrollment, its top 25 ranges from Howard, a traditionally black university in Washington, D.C., with 82.2 percent African-American enrollment, to the University of Texas in Austin, with 4.8 percent black enrollment, with only Rutgers and Harvard Law cracking 10 percent. University of California at Berkeley comes in at 5.4 percent, for example, and Emory at 5.2. The magazine ranks UF Law one of the top six schools for blacks in the South, along with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Florida State University, University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Louisiana State University.
Tabitha Taylor (2L) is a Hispanic student and vice president of BLSA, who organized the panel discussion. She joined BLSA because of the values and principles that it represents.
“While BLSA focuses its efforts on the black student population, the issues are applicable to all minority students,” Taylor said. “BLSA is a very welcoming organization that encourages students of all colors and backgrounds to join.”
Taylor believes that diversity in an educational setting will benefit all students.
“When you are a 1L in a section of 99 peers and they all have the same perspective as you, you’re not going to see things differently, and you’re not going to be able to analytically approach a situation from multiple aspects,” Taylor said.
Taylor says students benefit from a diverse law school as they embark on their legal careers.
“We’re not entering a world where all our clients are the same, or all of our co-coworkers are the same,” Taylor said. “You never know what kind of client you’re going to get or what kind of co-workers you’re going to be placed with and it’s really important that law students are exposed to that and acclimate to that.”
Campbell shares Taylor’s view of the importance of diversity.
“There are some aspects of other cultures that you don’t know and in order for you to learn that, someone has to tell you,” Campbell said. “If you don’t have enough diversity in a room, discussions tend to go without having that extra knowledge there.”