By Kate Britt
Speaking to a large crowd of curious and captivated attendees, moderator Raquel Gabriel began the program “Diverse Interactions: Addressing Race and Implicit Bias in Legal Research Instruction,” sponsored by RIPS-SIS.
University of Florida’s Shamika Dalton asked “Why now? Why us?” addressing the natural tendency to avoid uncomfortable topics. Regarding “why now?” she listed the social issues that had been the topic of discussion among attendees all weekend–African-Americans killed by police, LGBTQ+ persons refused service, under-compensation of women and people of color, detention of immigrant children, refugees turned away. Answering the question “why us?” she made a strong case for awareness of race and implicit bias as basic tenets of competency for attorneys. She pointed to the ABA’s professional conduct rules of competence, diligence, and ethical advising, as well as learning outcomes the ABA prescribes for law schools. Dalton recommended overcoming student resistance to the topic by directing them to the ABA’s Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission site. She called on attendees to evaluate what steps their committees and organizations are taking to make sure they are inclusive and diverse, asserting that “in order to have diversity and inclusion, it must be in every fiber of the organization.”
Next, Michelle Rigual of the University of New Mexico spoke about addressing the external and internal fears that can dissuade an instructor from broaching topics of race and implicit bias. Beginning with those we can control–internal fears–Rigual noted that in her experience, white people are reluctant to discuss race in “polite conversation,” and law librarians may feel under qualified to teach on race. Legal research instructors “don’t need to be an indoctrinator, [they] need to be a facilitator,” she counseled. Teachers can push students to think about issues, not what to think. Perhaps the class will veer off course, but instructors can use basic classroom skills to regain control and redirect back to the topic.
External fears may relate to how others receive or react to the topics of race and bias, with potential challenges from students, colleagues, administrators, or institutions; some instructors may even feel their employment is on the line. Rigual encouraged teachers to start slowly, create relationships with students, assess the comfort level of the class, discuss possibilities with colleagues, and seek support from administrators. Rigual exhorted directors to push librarians to develop classroom skills in this area. Teachers may never be completely comfortable when addressing these topics, but that should not be a barrier to discussion.
Giving practical guidelines for how to incorporate race and implicit bias in the classroom, Clanitra Stewart Nejdl of Northern Illinois University first encouraged instructors to evaluate the names used in hypotheticals. By including names that may raise a legal issue involving race, teachers add depth to students’ analysis and research. Teachers must also address generating search terms using outdated or disfavored terminology in order to yield comprehensive results, noting that terms for race, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity fluctuate over time. Nejdl recommended using current events to create hypotheticals, since students’ future clients will likely face similar issues, and provided a list of possible topics and resources from which to gather hypo ideas.
Encouraging attendees to face their fears of discussing race, Gabriel presented a hypo with potential race issues, and the room broke into groups to discuss how they would approach the hypo in the classroom. After a few minutes, volunteers related some issues their groups considered. Additional points brought up in this exercise included examining a single fact pattern in multiple combinations of race, gender, and other identifying factors; training students to think about multiple legal issues at a time; using a client as a legal research resource; and delving into scientific literature to determine whether race is a factor in medical or social issues.
Watch the complete recording here: https://www.aallnet.org/recording/aall2018-diverseinteractions/