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A Class Unto Themselves, continued

Margo Schlanger with 3L ReNika Moore
Assistant Professor Margo Schlanger with 3L ReNika Moore

Margo Schlanger, an assistant professor who began teaching at the school in 1998, says she feels grateful to her predecessors who made it a more hospitable place for women.

It used to be common wisdom to wait to have children until you were professionally established, says Schlanger, who, with her husband, Assistant Professor Samuel Bagenstos '93, is the parent of 3-year-old twins. Schlanger hopes that the recent example of women professors who were promoted after they had children means the environment has changed.

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As far as the environment for women students at HLS today is concerned, the days of sewing hypotheticals are long gone. "Women students have political power by virtue of their numbers," said Bartholet. "And I think that is significantly true for racial minority groups as well."

Over the years, students have made their voices heard, asking, among other things, for a more diverse faculty. During Dean Robert Clark's deanship, 12 women were hired--doubling the percentage on the faculty from 9 percent in 1989 to 18 percent today. Among them is Lani Guinier, the first and only black woman faculty member.

Renée Dall '03, co-chairwoman of the Women's Law Association and co-editor of the Women's Law Journal, says these numbers are still too low. For mentoring purposes, women faculty, she says, are spread too thin. "It is nice to have people who are in some way like us," she said, "and to speak with them of balancing work and family or about being a woman in a structure that is so male-dominated. It gives us hope and reassurance."

Dall also wishes there were more discussion of gender and race in the classroom. Guinier teaches a seminar called Critical Perspectives on the Law: Issues of Race, Gender, Class, and Social Change. But in every class, her goal is to develop ways of teaching that serve her students--all of them. Guinier joined the HLS faculty in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, where she'd observed and written about how many women law students do not thrive on the traditional approach to legal training. And this, she says, is not a sign of a problem with women, but an opportunity to improve the learning environment for everybody.

"Now that we have a much more diverse group of faculty and students, this may be a moment to reflect on other ways of engaging students in an equally rigorous intellectual environment that meets not only the needs of the students but the needs of the profession in the 21st century," she said.

Besides developing alternative approaches to teaching in her own classes, Guinier has held a series of workshops in which other faculty are examining their pedagogy. It started as a response to the incidents in the spring of 2002 among students and in the classroom that involved conflict around race. Guinier says they began by focusing on how faculty handle issues of race or gender in the classroom and how students of color and women respond. "But a conversation that seemed to be generated by the concerns of a particular group," she said, "has allowed us to think critically and reflect in an ongoing way about how we teach everybody."

Guinier has written that she prefers to think of herself as a mentor rather than a role model. She takes issue with the idea that people necessarily model themselves on a person of their own gender and racial or ethnic group. And she is interested, she says, in reaching all her students, not simply those who share her identity.

The same caveats apply to the ambition and interests of women faculty as a whole.

Schlanger, for example, points out that, while she is the only female member of the faculty teaching torts, she is not the only person teaching about gender and torts--male professors do as well. She also teaches a seminar on gender and race discrimination, although she is white. "Is it because we have women on the faculty that we have classes that talk about gender discrimination?" asks Schlanger. "Maybe. Or maybe it's because we're a faculty that takes a norm of equality seriously that we both have women on the faculty and classes that talk about gender discrimination."

Although Field and others still believe that there are not enough women faculty at the school, clearly those who are here are transforming it beyond their numbers, through their contributions to their fields and to their students.

Joining professors like Martha Minow, international scholar on war crimes and refugees, women faculty hired during Clark's deanship include bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, who like Guinier received the Sacks-Freund Teaching Award, in her case recognizing her Socratic teaching style; Janet Halley, an authority on legal issues surrounding gender, identity and sexual orientation; Lucie White '81, who teaches social advocacy in the classroom and in clinical settings; legal historian Christine Desan; death penalty expert Carol Steiker '86; tax scholar Diane Ring '90; employment law expert Christine Jolls '93; and election law and voting rights scholar Heather Gerken, as well as the law school's next dean, administrative law expert and former White House lawyer Elena Kagan.

Under her leadership, who knows what the picture will look like?

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