An Open Letter to Administration Regarding Diversity

In recent months, the student population at large has raised concerns about the rising cost of tuition and financial aid with the Faculty. The Faculty has in turn provided us with further information and statistical data about the rise in tuition, and its effects on the student population at U of T Law. Included in that information was a graph showing that between 1988 and 2013, the visible minority population at the law school has risen from 7.4% to approximately 35%. (As a point of reference, approximately 47% of Toronto’s population self-identify as being part of a visible minority; 55% of first-year students at U of T generally identify as being of a visible minority.)

Several of us “visible minority” students have a sense that we are being used by the Faculty to show that accessibility is less of a problem than it was previously. Broad-brush statistics on racial diversity in the law school are problematic as an indication of accessibility. It should go without saying that not all visible minority students have the same backgrounds and lived experiences: a person’s self-identification as a visible minority does not necessarily tell you much about that person’s struggles to come to law school. Some of us grew up in wealthy families and attended private schools; others come from low-income families and attended inner-city public schools. Some of us are first-generation immigrants; others are from families long-established in Canada. The fact that more visible minorities are attending U of T Law may be a good in and of itself, but it does not mean that accessibility issues have been significantly ameliorated.

The numbers presented to us by the Faculty on racial diversity in the law school did not disaggregate the data along other dimensions of privilege, such as (most importantly for the tuition debate) socio-economic status. Sources of privilege interact and intersect in complex ways. Poor members of visible minority communities may not experience their race in the same way that the rich do, and vice versa: poverty is not necessarily experienced in the same way by White and non-White individuals.

U of T Law may indeed be more accessible to visible minorities than in the past – but which minority communities, and which members of those communities, are the main beneficiaries of this increased accessibility? Professor Richard Sander’s study of class in American law school admissions found that “[a]lthough racial diversity has increased sharply [from the 1960s to the 1990s and early 2000s], the great majority of non-white law students are, like whites, from relatively elite backgrounds” (Richard Sander, “Class in American Legal Education” (2011) 88:4 Denver University Law Review at 633). Just as statistics on women’s representation in law schools (or other institutions) do not prove the openness of those institutions to all women (since women of colour, queer women, women with disabilities, and poor women are likely to be under-represented), evidence of greater racial diversity is no proclamation of victory.

In its report on “Accessibility and Diversity of Enrolment in the JD Program,” the Faculty acknowledged that its data on cultural and ethnic diversity “shows us a relatively narrow measure of the diversity of our class, and does not include LGBT and gender identity, socioeconomic class and other aspects of diversity.” Collection of information on this broader set of metrics (and their intersections) would produce a more accurate picture of diversity and accessibility at the law school.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Phan (3L), Azeezah Kanji (3L), Sanaa Mahmood (2L), Nabila Qureshi (1L), Annie Tayyab (2L), Marianne Salih (2L), Maya Ollek (2L), Beatrice Marry (1L), Raees Nakhuda (3L), Nadia Sayed (3L), Aiwen Xu (2L), Esther Oh (3L), Katherine Georgious (2L), Vincent Wong (3L), Abbas Kassam (3L), Jennifer Bernardo (2L), Lisa Tan (2L), Cindy Yi (1L), Sofia Ijaz (2L), Giselle Chin (3L)