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Law Schools Celebrate Diverse Admissions

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then behold the beauty of diversity in law school admissions.

Yale Law School is celebrating the most diverse entering class in its history. The law school reported that 53 percent are women and 48 percent are people of color.

That's quite a difference for a law school that faced student protests over a lack of diversity several years ago. It also represents a sea change in legal education, and law schools are proud of it.

Proud Changes

The increasing diversity at Yale followed from recommendations released last year by faculty and students. Professor James Forman said they purposely recruited groups that have been "historically underrepresented in law."

"We choose to do it. Or we choose not to do it," he said. "Yale Law School did it this year, and that is something I am immensely proud of."

Dean Heather Gerken, a federalism and election law expert, was named the law school's first female dean this year. The school was founded in 1817 and admitted its first woman in 1918.

Harvard Law School, also founded in 1817, took longer; it did not admit women until 1950. As law schools have campaigned for students from minority groups, however, the student demographic has changed.

Pale Male

Still the cultural evolution has been slow -- especially at the oldest institutions. The Morningside Muckraker put it this way in a headline: Pale, Male, Yale: Diversifying the Walls of Columbia Law School.

The publication addressed the issue in 2013 by focusing on portraits of alumni adorning law school halls. Despite increasingly diverse student populations, the vast majority of the honored places were reserved for white men.

Students said the portraits tended to reaffirm the fact that women and minorities have been outsiders in the law. Following an example at Harvard Law School, which featured photos of faculty from diverse backgrounds, Columbia created a new photo series of notable alumni.

"The new photo portraits are nice, potentially helpful, and the effort is appreciated, but having actual diverse members of the community is more important," Andrew Sangster, president of Native American Law Students Association, said at the time.

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