After report, Law School improves gender balance

Law School

Almost a year after a study found that male students at Yale Law School are 16 percent more likely to speak in class than women, the student group that released the report has found that gender balance at the school has improved.

Yale Law Women, which conducted the 2012 study entitled “Yale Law School Faculty and Students Speak Up about Gender: Ten Years Later,” organized a presentation last month to update the Law School community on progress the school has made since the report’s release last spring. The group found that faculty members have implemented many of the report’s recommendations to encourage equal classroom participation between the genders, such as providing students with discussion questions before class and implementing the five-second rule, which advises professors to wait for five seconds after asking a question rather than calling on the first student to raise his or her hand.

Students interviewed said they are pleased with the administration’s response to the report, and Law School Deputy Dean Douglas Kysar said the school will continue to facilitate an inclusive environment for its students.

“My colleagues and I have been actively discussing the report during faculty meetings and over lunch, and we have instituted a number of the report’s suggestions,” Kysar said. “Though we are pleased with the way things are going, we will not become complacent and will continue to work on making our classrooms inclusive and welcoming spaces for everyone.”

The 2012 report assessed students’ interactions with faculty both in and out of the classroom and included recommendations on how to minimize gender imbalances at the Law School. The study synthesized findings from interviews with 54 faculty members, observations of student participation rates in 113 class sessions in fall 2011 and approximately 400 anonymous student survey responses. Among several different indicators of student interaction with professors, the report found that female students were generally less comfortable than their male peers in approaching professors after class, during office hours, outside office hours and by email.

At the beginning of last semester, Kysar circulated a memorandum to faculty members that highlighted several of the report’s recommendations and urged the faculty to read the report if they had not done so already. He said the faculty is continuing to collect a set of “best teaching practices” for professors to implement at the Law School. Kysar said he hopes to institute a workshop for faculty to discuss exemplary teaching methods next fall.

Kysar added that faculty are now more formal and transparent about when their office hours are and how students can sign up, as the report highlighted that different students have different comfort levels when it comes to approaching professors.

“Since its release, the Speak Up report has reinvigorated conversations about the role that gender plays at the Law School and within the legal profession at large,” said Celia Rhoads LAW ’14, advocacy chair of Yale Law Women. “Many professors have expressed to us that the report forced them to think critically about how gender affects interactions with students. As a result, many professors have examined and reformed their practices, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Eric Parrie LAW ’13 said he has noticed a “marked difference” in the way his professors teach, adding that many faculty members who arrived at the Law School with no prior pedagogical training have benefited from the report’s recommendations.

Rhoads said many of her professors have discussed the importance of the report in class, adding that her conversations with faculty and students convinced her that the study has prompted members of the Law School community to think about gender disparities.

But law professor Lea Brilmayer — one of the first female law professors at the school — said she thinks the process of battling gender imbalance within the Law School will be a long one.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to change in the space of a year, given that this problem has been going on for about as long as I’ve been at Yale Law School,” Brilmayer said.

Though Brilmayer said professors have taken interest in the report, she added that the Law School community’s response has generally been “just what you would expect — nothing frantic.”

Yale Law Women published the first edition of “Yale Law School Faculty and Students Speak about Gender: A Report on Faculty-Student Relations at Yale Law School” in 2002.

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