Gender Equity in the Classroom Part II
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
My last blog discussed how the gap between men’s and women’s participation continues to be a problem in law school classrooms. This is clearly a systemic problem, affected by issues ranging from women’s prior classroom experiences to law school diversity to the persistence of discrimination. But today I want to focus on what a lone professor might do in his or her classroom to try and close this gap. Here are a few tactics that I am trying.
First, require participation. Given that studies show the gap is at its worst when class discussion relies on volunteers, one solution might be to require everyone to contribute as often as possible. My policy is that everyone is on call for every class, unless they check themselves as unprepared before class starts. I have found that forcing a student to speak at the beginning of class increases the odds that she will volunteer in that same class later. I understand that this is anecdotal, but I’ve seen the effect repeatedly.
Second, wait a bit. Since men seem to hesitate less, instead of calling on the first person with a hand in the air, wait a few seconds if you do seek volunteers. Also, give students a chance to collect their thoughts when you ask them a question rather than immediately moving on to someone else.
Third, provide opportunities for small in-class group discussions. Getting into the habit of talking about the law in the classroom, even with just a few other students, and rehearsing an argument first, hopefully makes it easier to offer it to the entire class. I like to break students up into groups of three or four, have them debate a hypothetical before their designated “judge,” and then have the judges of each group come up to the front of the class to issue their one minute “ruling from the bench.”
Fourth, create alternate ways to participate besides speaking in class. For example, I have students complete a series of short written exercises over the course of the semester.
A bonus of these tactics is that they should benefit all students who might be reluctant speakers. To close, I want to ask everyone, professors and students: what are other strategies that you have found to be effective?