Behind The Columns
Student organizations broaden the definition of diversity
In the debate over affirmative action in higher education, one common argument in favor of allowing universities some leeway is that diversity contributes to the intellectual life of the school—it helps shape the issues we talk about and the positions we take. The role that student organizations play in this dynamic often gets overlooked. Individual students, particularly those who stand a bit outside the cultural norms, may be shy about expressing their views in public conversation. A group of ten or twenty like-minded people is less bashful.
Think about some of the social and intellectual issues that were salient in the course of this academic year. The war in Iraq was the most prominent. Among the faculty, sentiment about an American invasion ranged from reluctant acceptance to strong opposition. Student opinion was more widely dispersed. Many favored the proactive approach taken by President Bush, for humanitarian reasons or reasons of national security. (It’s an odd inversion of the 1960’s, when students outflanked faculty on the left.) Our recently formed Veterans Association was an important force in the public articulation of this position.
War and rumors of war have stimulated the government’s interest in military recruiting. The armed services, as you know, adhere to a policy popularly called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in hiring gay and lesbian service men and women. This is inconsistent with the Law School’s nondiscrimination policy. For several years we have had a tug-of-war with the armed services over this issue. When the faculty voted last fall (under considerable government pressure) to give military recruiters the same treatment as other employers in our Career Services Office, the Lambda Law Students Association and several other organizations led a strong student protest.
This year is the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and it has been activities concerned with abortion. Our new Society for Law, Life, and Religion joined Professor Tom Kohler and several pro-life organizations to sponsor a conference about the (mostly malign) effects abortion has had on women. The event drew a crowd of several hundred largely like-minded people from inside and outside the Law School. It also stimulated our Reproductive Choice Coalition to hand out its own literature, and later to sponsor (with the Women’s Law Society) a lecture by Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.
Affirmative action is a third issue that has attracted attention this year. The Supreme Court heard arguments in Grutter v. Bollinger, and that case has been the subject of intense interest for us. It is, after all, a case about the role of race in law school admissions. The Black Law Students Association, Latino Law Students Association, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and the American Constitution Society hosted speakers, events, and a march on Washington, all in support of the University of Michigan’s position that race matters.
Today there are thirty-three student organizations on campus, and new ones spring up at the rate of two or three per year. Just look at their range of interests and the causes they have championed over the past year or so. The Boston College Law Review held a symposium on clergy misconduct litigation . Our BC Law Republicans invited Richard Egan, one-time ambassador to Ireland and Marine helicopter chief, to talk about America’s concerns with terrorism. The International Law Society and the Jewish Law Students Association invited Tal Becker, legal advisor to the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN, to talk about terrorism in Israel. The BC Law Democrats encouraged students to get involved in the Massachusetts gubernatorial election.
The Domestic Violence Advocacy Project was formed to educate and advise the community about domestic violence issues, and to establish a network of law students to volunteer in local shelters and other domestic violence advocacy-related areas. The Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), twenty years old next year, promotes the placement of law students with public interest firms and agencies. PILF provides summer grants to students who would not otherwise be able to afford to work in these traditionally lowsalaried areas. The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy was formed in 2001, partly in reaction to the more conservative Federalist Society. I could go on at more length, but you get the idea.
I have not dwelt on racial diversity, but it is obviously on my mind. I have wanted to make the point that different groups of like-minded students, if present in sufficient numbers, can contribute a lot to the business of education. It is entirely proper for schools to pursue students who will make that contribution. And racial diversity contributes to the mixture in ways essentially similar to other differences that we value.