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This is Minnesota: An Analysis of Disparities in Black Student Enrollment at the University of Minnesota Law School and the Effects of Systemic Barriers to Black Representation in the Law

By: Maleah Riley-Brown, Samia Osman, Justice C. Shannon, Yemaya Hanna, Brandie Burris, Tony Sanchez, and Joshua Cottle. Full Text.

Correction: Upon release, this Article stated in Table 2 that enrollment of students of color in the first-year class totaled 45 students, making up 21.32 percent of the first-year class. This number was in error; the correct statistic is 54 students of color, making up 25.59 percent of the first-year class.

Lawyers often occupy powerful positions in our society and can have a profound impact in designing and changing laws, influencing major policy regimes, and leading cities and communities. Further, the law is often lauded as a method to promote a system of justice and fairness. But for too long, the law has enforced a system of justice based in White supremacy and oppression. Laws were designed and implemented to steal land from indigenous communities, to enslave and oppress Africans, and to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps, amongst many other atrocities. To this day, the law is used to both expand and diminish civil rights as we continue to struggle to ensure all people are treated equitably within our society. This Article seeks to bring attention to those individuals we train and educate to wield this power and influence.

The University of Minnesota Law School, like so many other institutions in the legal field, must contend with the reality of which students it educates and positions to be leaders in its community. In the 2019–20 academic year, only 0.6 percent of Minnesota Law students identified as Black or African-American. At the same time, over 75 percent students enrolled in the J.D. program at the University of Minnesota identified as White. Even more alarming, the total number of self-identifying male Black or African-American students was lower than in 1894, the first year that a Black or African-American student graduated from Minnesota Law.

With many students becoming leaders within the legal, political, and business community, it is imperative that Minnesota Law seek to attract, admit, and educate a student body representative of the communities we live in and the communities we serve. We must reckon with the nature of the legal system within which we are trained: one that is built upon a system of oppression and inequity often touted as justice, safety, and fairness. A student body more reflective of the communities we live in and serve is only the first step in enhancing the legal profession’s capacity to equitably and effectively serve all individuals and communities who seek legal assistance.

This Article seeks to emphasize perspectives often pushed away from legal education and the legal system. It first presents the personal narratives of three students currently enrolled at Minnesota Law. These courageous students have chosen to share stories of their path to law school and the barriers they faced as Black students traversing the United States’ educational system. Next, the Article discusses the experiences of students and alumni of Minnesota Law collected through interviews and surveys within the Minnesota legal community. Then, the Article lays out an empirical analysis of the disparities within student enrollment at Minnesota Law and explores the ways in which these disparities inhibit the legal profession and legal system. Finally, the Article proposes a series of actions that Minnesota Law should take to remedy some of the harms caused by these disparities and enhance the educational environment to contend with the realities of racism within the law.