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The scene, drawn from memory, is a first-year law school classroom. It is the early 1980s and the class is on civil procedure. The teacher is a white woman. She is nervous, and the class is dominated by students who provide standard right answers to formulaic law school questions. Other points of view, particularly those of a critical or feminist nature, are either passed over quickly or ignored. Questions of color are never mentioned. More than that, the teacher never calls on any African-American students. Students of color are either ignored completely or told, when they have questions, “We are moving on.”

What initially seemed to be nervousness or inexperience becomes accentuated over time as discrimination. As the semester progresses, the African-American students start to test in subtle and quiet ways the teacher's practice of excluding them. Things come to a head when they organize a systematic protest. After every statement or question made by the teacher, at least two of the students raise their hands. After several unsuccessful attempts at asking or answering questions, one African-American student confronts the teacher. When she tells him that she is moving on, the student insists: “I have a question.” The teacher reiterates: “We are moving on.” The student persists, the teacher repeats. All the African-American students then stand up and walk out of the class. One white student stands up and leaves as well. The rest of the class stays. The course continues without any real interruption. Sometime later a curt apology—“I didn't mean to offend anyone”—suffices to paper over the color lines that the incident revealed.

Publication Date





Journal of Legal Education

First Page



Education Law | Law | Law and Gender | Law and Race | Law and Society | Legal Education