For the first time in the publication’s nearly 130-year history, the Harvard Law Review inducted a group of editors this year whose demographics reflect those of their wider Law School class—including the highest-ever percentages of women and students of color.
The demographic composition of the new editors—who were selected over the summer—reflects the broader makeup of the Law School’s class of 2018, according to numbers provided by Harvard Law Review President Michael L. Zuckerman ’10. Forty-six percent of the incoming editors are women, an increase of about 10 percentage points from an average of the past three years. Forty-one percent are students of color, compared to the same three-year average of 28 percent on the Law Review. Both roughly reflect the corresponding breakdown of the wider Law School class.
The Law Review includes 46 editors from each second-year and third-year class, for a total of 92.
The Harvard Law Review—one of the preeminent student organizations at the school—has faced criticism in recent years for lacking representation of women and minorities on its editorial staff. A report released last spring by the Women’s Law Association’s Shatter the Ceiling Committee highlighted the gender gap in Law Review membership. That gender disparity has persisted even after the Law Review expanded an affirmative action policy to include gender in 2013, in its editor selection process.
Debate over diversity and inclusion across the broader Law School shaped campus dialogue last year, when student activists with the group Reclaim Harvard Law drew national attention to the issue.
“The descriptive stats of the Review haven’t historically been inclusive and so that may signal to some people that it’s not an inclusive place, because it didn’t have an inclusive membership,” said Imelme Umana, a second-year Law student and new Law Review editor. “One of the best ways to signal inclusion is to, in fact, diversify the membership.”
Zuckerman said he thought the “grueling” seven-day competition process to get selected as an editor, combined with misconceptions about the type of person the Law Review attracts, deterred many women and students of color from completing the process in the past.
“That’s the kind of thing that we all want to make sure isn’t happening to someone—that they have this sense that their work is not going to be good enough and they’re not going to belong on the Law Review,” Zuckerman said.
When new leaders took over in January, they focused on recruitment and outreach efforts to challenge these perceptions and encourage first-year Law students to undergo the selection process. Last spring, editors led a recruitment process more focused on individuals. Their efforts included information sessions with affinity groups—such as the Black Law Students Association—and unique emails sent to every first-year student, and more than 200 one-on-one coffee chats to build relationships with prospective members and address their concerns.
For Umana, who is part of the Black Law Students Association, the individual coffee chats and the information session helped to demystify the publication and its selection process.
Law Review Vice President Kaitlin J. Beach, who said she has felt frustrated in the past as a female editor, added she thinks the new class’s diversity is already shifting discussions and priorities at the Law Review.
“We do everything democratically. We vote on every piece we choose to publish, and every change to the institution itself, so just getting different voices, different experiences from different life backgrounds I think has brought a lot of change to the table,” she said.
But Zuckerman is wary of hailing the demographic changes as a major victory, citing the development instead as one positive—and overdue—step toward creating an inclusive environment.
Umana shares this cautious optimism.
“It’s hard to say definitively that a diverse membership automatically leads to students of color feeling included,” she said. “I do hope that with the marked increase in the diversity of the membership, that it signals to future students of all sorts of marginalized identities that they belong at the Law Review.”
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.