Improving Climate at the Law School: The Communication Changes That Are Helping Make It Happen

Law School Equity and Diversity page header

by Amelie Hyams

The Diversity Community of Practice (DCoP) is a network of individuals from across academic and non-academic units on the Twin Cities campus who are working together to share ideas, information, examples, and take action towards improving equity and diversity at the University of Minnesota. Recently the DCoP’s Communications Subcommittee has begun conducting Appreciative Inquiries, inviting our member units to share examples from their ongoing efforts on equity and diversity including improving campus climate at the U. Our plan is to share a wide range of ideas across UMN departments and units, that can serve as inspiration for everyone working on these issues since “Diversity is Everyone’s Everyday Work.”

Our thanks to DCoP members with the Law School: Nubia Esparza, Senior Coordinator of Diversity and Student Programs and Erin Keyes, Assistant Dean of Students, who are the first to share an example of work from their unit.
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Esparza and Keyes have offered insights on an internal communication effort initiated in the Law School. These communications are intended to improve campus climate at the Law School and inspire equity and diversity among its stakeholder communities.

They introduced us to this plan by forwarding a newsletter the Law School recently sent to their stakeholders. In addition to updates and resources, the newsletter directs readers to the Law School’s website section containing resources and information about issues of equity and diversity.

In their response to my questions about these communications, Esparza and Keyes discussed the rationale for the plan, the approach they have used, and some assessment of how effective these efforts have been, so far.

How long has the Law School had a Diversity page on their website – is this new?

We’ve had a Diversity page for some time, but it was buried and rarely updated. The new version, which launched with our website overhaul last Fall [2015], has been adjusted over the course of the year to add links to key content within and beyond the Law School (including the Campus Climate page). New to this version is the calendar feature, where we add diversity and inclusion-related events on and off campus that may be of interest to the [Law School] community.

How often does the Law School send out these email newsletters to their stakeholders?

We circulated email updates to the Law School on behalf of the Diversity Committee in the Fall and Spring semesters. We’d like to make this a more regular feature (twice per semester as preview and wrap-up.)

Who is the intended audience for these newsletters?

The audience is the Law School community of students, faculty, and staff. This past year, the Diversity Committee’s work has been focused on internal climate issues, and fostering more avenues for open discussion. We’re certainly inextricably connected to a broader community, but the primary focus has been immediate to the Law School.

Has your invitation to suggest speakers and topics, etcetera, provided the level of engagement you had anticipated? (i.e., use this link to share your ideas, speaker suggestions, and constructive feedback with the Diversity Committee.)

We did not get significant on-going engagement/ideas from Law School community members through the general Google form, but the initial push did yield some helpful comments that we passed along for consideration by departments or programs that could respond to them. We will plan to continue to include the link in future communications and may also have it placed more prominently on the website.

Another tool that did yield some good ideas was our RSVP form for the MLK Convocation. We invited those submitting RSVP’s to make suggestions about future diversity programs, topics, and initiatives they would like to see at the Law School. [The RSVP form was included in a previous newsletter and is not available here]. Nearly 40 RSVP’d attendees made comments that we’ll consider in 2016-2017 programming.

Have there been any positive surprises from either the newsletters or the diversity page on the website?

There does seem to be an uptick in interest and inclination to discuss the sometimes-hard issues around diversity and climate. That may have happened anyway given current events, but bolstered by our communications, we’re able to foster engagement such as a [Law School] Faculty discussion on classroom climate, held on May 26, 2016.

Another surprising result of our efforts this year, which may not initially seem like “good” news, is the fact that students with specific concerns appear more open to addressing them with trusted staff or faculty.

It is our hope that highlighting diversity and inclusion initiatives and concerns may have the result of increasing students’ expectation of responsiveness.

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