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ABA Diversity and Inclusion Center supports diverse students

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Diversity Event
Then-ABA Law Student Division Council member Caitlin Peterson introduces a panel on diversity during the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting.

What does the ABA Diversity and Inclusion Center do? The better question might ask what doesn’t it do. Between awards, scholarships, programs, CLEs, webinars, networking events, and pipeline programs, the center’s entities work to strengthen networks of attorneys and civil rights professionals inside and outside the ABA.

Their ultimate purpose is to support the ABA goal to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession and justice system. It does that through eight entities:

These entities operate somewhat independently, with some under the umbrella of the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity up until 2018. At that time, the groups came together under the Diversity and Inclusion Center.

Achieving meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion milestones are major challenges for law schools and institutions overall. The D&I Center has partnered with various groups within and outside the ABA that explicitly focus on advancing equity on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.

True inclusion is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that students at every institution deserve full engagement and participation on their terms. The D&I Center supports students from diverse backgrounds through programming and resources and by educating staff and faculty.

There are dozens of ways to get involved in D&I Center efforts, but one way is to apply for appointment to a commission. Each commission has approximately 12 representatives, and applications open every year from December until February. All ABA members, including law students, may apply to join one of these commissions.

You can learn more at ambar.org/appointments.

Enter the leadership pipeline

The D&I Center and its entities prioritize the educational and career pipeline to ensure equity for students and attorneys from diverse backgrounds.

For students of color—Perhaps the most popular pipeline program is the annual Judicial Clerkship Program. The three-day program, which has been held for 20 years and is led by the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, introduces law students from diverse backgrounds to judges and law clerks. The program educates students on the lifelong benefits of a judicial clerkship and encourages judges to consider students of color for judicial clerkships.

For students with disabilities—The Commission on Disability Rights maintains a Law School Disability Program Directory and internship program for law students with disabilities to work with various general counsels.

For women—The Commission on Women in the Profession with Ms. JD awards a yearly fellowship to women law students.

For LGBTQ+ students—The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity provides an annual scholarship to students interested in pursuing LGBTQ+ public interest work in the profession.

For incoming 1L students of color—Each spring, the ABA awards an annual Legal Opportunity Scholarship. The program’s mission is to encourage racial and ethnic minority students to apply to law school and to provide financial assistance. The scholarship grants 10–20 diverse law students with $15,000 of financial aid over their three years in law school. More than 350 students from across the country have received the scholarship.

Take advantage of resources

Looking for information on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues? The ABA has you covered. Here’s a quick sample:

The impact of race and gender bias in the legal profession—Check out the Commission on Women in the Profession’s report: You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial and Gender Bias in the Legal Profession.

The effect of policing on Black and Brown youth and youth with disabilities—A task force recommends steps for the ABA to take to mitigate this issue. Read more in the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice’s School to Prison Pipeline Report.

LGBTQ+ allyship—Access the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’s How to Be an Ally Toolkit. It includes a presentation, videos, and facilitator resources on LGBTQ+ allyship in the workplace.

The experiences of LGBTQ+ and disabled lawyers in the legal profession—The Commission on Disability Rights published an initial report on inclusion from a national study of disabled and LGBTQ+ lawyers’ perspectives. The commission also created a Zoom accessibility guide for virtual meeting planners to ensure full inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

Implicit bias in the courtroom—Show the Implicit Bias Video Series at your law school for free. It includes 15- to 20-minute videos for judges, prosecutors, and public defenders and additional resources and tools to reduce bias in your everyday life.

CLE—The center worked with the ABA Mandatory CLE department to create a CLE depository of more than 200 on-demand CLEs that meet the diversity, equity, and inclusion/elimination of bias requirement for attorneys across many jurisdictions. It has also led the creation of the Racial Equity in the Justice System depository of resources.

Student life resources

The center works with every type of legal organization, including law schools and their students and faculty. If you’re looking for ideas to meaningfully celebrate and uplift diverse heritages and holidays, the D&I Center has a resource page on legal trailblazers from diverse backgrounds.

If you’re looking to make your virtual events more disability-inclusive and accessible or to give tips to your classmates and professors on how to do that, check out the Commission on Disability Rights Law School Disability Programs Directory and Zoom Accessibility Resources.

The D&I Center also recently developed a training primer that’s available to any institution interested in supporting greater education on common terminology.

If you’d like the center to join your law school to share this training, email diversity@americanbar.or…. If you’re looking to share more educational resources at your law school, the center has produced or coproduced free webinars in partnership with the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. These include expert perspectives on such topics as youth with disabilities, law students of color, immigrant communities, and voting rights.

As the ABA rises to meet the challenge of combatting injustice in the legal system and profession, it has a strong foundation in the D&I Center. To learn more, visit ambar.org/diversity.

Safaya Fawzi Safaya Fawzi is the Associate Director in the Diversity & Inclusion Center at the American Bar Association. She works with volunteers, law professionals, and staff across organizations to support programming and operations that advance access for lawyers from historically-marginalized backgrounds. Safaya has made it her mission to affect change through impactful policies, social justice education, and starting conversations on challenging but necessary topics.