Black female students at Harvard Law School (HLS) greatly outnumber their black male counterparts, according to a bulletin recently published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
According to the survey, between 66 and 70 percent of black students at HLS are women, despite the fact that the school’s student body is only 44 percent female overall.
The situation at HLS reflects a more widespread phenomenon, the report stated, as all of the U.S.’s top 11 law schools, as ranked by the U.S. News and World Report, have women making up the majority of black enrollment. Nationwide, 60 percent of black law students are female.
But of the top 11 law schools, only one—University of California at Berkeley—has a student body that is predominately female. Sixty-one percent of law students at Berkeley are women, as are over 70 percent of black law students there.
Yohannes Tsehai, president of the Harvard chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA), attributes much of the law school gender gap to the higher enrollment of black women in college nationwide.
In 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women constituted 56 percent of all U.S. college students, but 62 percent of black college students. At Harvard College, 53 percent of black students are female.
This disproportionate number of black women is seen in all levels of higher education. Roughly 60 percent of black students at most professional schools are women, compared to about 47 percent of professional students overall.
And with the number of black women in professional degree programs growing much faster than the number of black men, this trend seems likely to continue.
Another possible explanation offered for the high numbers of black women is that law schools see admitting black women as a way to improve their statistics on diversity.
“When you look in the U.S. News and World Report you see the number of women, the number of blacks,” said Jennifer A. Gray, a BLSA executive, but you don’t see the number of black women. Admitting women minority members allows admissions officers to increase the percentages of two underrepresented groups.
HLS admissions officials could not be reached for comment this week.
The gender imbalance among black law students has had a profound impact on student life, according to black student leaders at the Law School.
“I felt the admissions office had been remiss,” said Tsehai, describing his experience as a 1L in 2001, when women were more than 75 percent of the blacks in the entering class. “I had a great sense of disappointment” at the scarcity of black men, he said.
Students also complain about the lack of a black male perspective in intellectual debates.
“Also in the classroom, if there is/was a discussion...concerning black men, the disparity is noticeable,” BLSA Vice President Kenitra I. Fewell wrote in an e-mail.
The preponderance of women also sometimes makes it challenging to find a date.
“It’s difficult if you exclusively date within your race.... For a lot of people it’s a problem” said Lisa Willis, who is on the BLSA executive board. “The more you move up in your field, the less black men you’re going to see.”
Since 2001, the percentage of women among black students entering HLS has declined. Many students see this as an active response on the part of the HLS admissions office, but not as part of an overall trend among law schools.
“I don’t forsee black men outnumbering black women,” Willis said.