The Yale Law School on Aug. 21 welcomed the most diverse class in its history, marking the second consecutive year the school has set the benchmark.
Among the 205 students in the latest cohort, 53 percent are women and 48 percent are people of color. In addition, 21 percent are the first in their immediate families to attend graduate or professional school. The increasing diversity of the Law School comes on the heels of broad recommendations made last year by a group of faculty members and students to make the centuries-old institution more diverse and inclusive.
“Recruiting more members of various groups that have been historically underrepresented in law — including more students from working-class and low-income backgrounds, more students of color, more African-American students, more women — is a choice,” said Law School professor James Forman LAW ’92. “We choose to do it. Or we choose not to do it. Yale Law School did it this year, and that is something I am immensely proud of.”
Forman, who co-chaired the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion with newly appointed Law School Dean Heather Gerken and law professor Tom Tyler, said the news is “thrilling” for him because it shows that makeup of an incoming class at an elite law school is not “preordained.”
Then-Dean Robert Post LAW ’77 appointed the committee after a coalition of law students staged a protest during his annual “State of the School” address in March 2015. The 13-page report, released the following year, offered around 60 specific recommendations, which ranged from hiring a diversity consultant to tapping into the alumni network during the recruiting process.
Law School Dean of Admissions Asha Rangappa LAW ’00 told the News that the efforts to increase diversity in the student body took place throughout the entire application process, influencing both the diversity of the applicant pool and the yield of diverse students ultimately admitted.
According to Rangappa, the Admissions Office hired diversity representatives in anticipation of the committee’s recommendations in 2015 to conduct individual outreach to prospective applicants encouraging them to apply. Additionally, the Admissions Office introduced Yale Forward in the admitted students program two years ago, which provided an opportunity for admitted students underrepresented in the legal profession to interact with current students and alumni.
“I am so pleased that the efforts of the Admissions Office over the last two years are reflected in this year’s incoming class,” Rangappa said.
Christine Kwon LAW ’17, who was an admissions coordinator throughout her years as a law student, said the admissions coordinators and diversity representatives serve as ambassadors of the Law School at various recruitment events, share their experiences and help plan the annual admitted students program. According to Kwon, the Admissions Office hired three diversity representatives prior to the summer of 2015, and has hired five more since then.
“Student ideas are taken seriously, and the programming for admitted students has evolved to ensure diverse admits feel welcome at YLS, and to show them the strength of our affinity group community,” Kwon said.
Kwon added that although the small student body size of YLS is one of the school’s strengths, it may also discourage applicants who are already underrepresented. She also noted that the individual connection diversity representatives enjoy with students and applicants channels the latter’s concerns more directly to the administration.
Eni Kassim LAW ’20, a first-year student at the Law School, said the Black Law Students Association at Yale reached out to him after he was admitted inviting him to participate in activities during the admitted students program.
Kassim said he feels the school’s environment is very inclusive, adding that he is happy to be part of Yale’s history as a member of the most diverse class.
The Law School’s drive to boost diversity comes at a time when law schools across the nation are grappling with ways to improve diversity and inclusion. A task force composed of students, faculty and alumni of Harvard Law School created a report this July asking Harvard Law to step up advising programs, mental health resources and financial aid.
And at Yale, with Gerken at the helm of the Law School, students and alumni are hopeful that more efforts to improve diversity are coming.
“I know that stepping up efforts to increase diversity and inclusion remains a key priority for Dean Gerken. Our historically diverse entering class is an amazing achievement, but there is much more to come,” Kwon said. “Dean Gerken is just getting started.”
Gerken became the first female dean of the Law School when she assumed her position this year.
Jingyi Cui | firstname.lastname@example.org | @jingyicuii
Correction, Aug. 31: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Law School admissions coordinators as admissions officers.