Black at U of T Law

Rachel Chan (2L)

Just before Bay Street in-firm interview week, in mid-November, the Globe and Mail published “Black on Bay Street” by Hadiya Roderique. This article explored the obstacles that women of colour face both in landing and working at a Bay Street firm. The piece was shared widely among students and employers, and it sparked a dialogue about the ongoing challenges of inclusivity in the legal profession. Many students have expressed that the problem starts with admissions and the law school experience, long before anyone gets to Bay Street.

David Rybak (2L), who met Hadiya through the First Generation Network, kindly put me in touch with her. We discussed some of the concerns addressed in her article as well as her experience at U of T Law.

UV: Can you tell us about your experience at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law? Do you think the school contributed to, or was complicit in, the problem?

Hadiya Roderique: My experience at the law school was largely positive in terms of my class and my participation in the school’s social fabric. I and another person of colour, Khalid Janmohamed, were two of the most involved/visible people: we were the two elected first year SLS reps, President and VP of SLS the next year, orientation co-chairs, and the two DLS elected execs in our second year. I’d say the overemphasis on Bay Street as the option, however, was problematic and limiting, as people of colour are less likely to get those jobs, and a lot of resources at the school are poured into that pipeline.

UV: What do you think can be done at the law school level to improve diversity in the legal profession?

HR: Programs like LAWS are great, but I think the admissions process is a place where we can see improvement. Someone who has a 3.7 [GPA] and had their tuition and living expenses paid for by their parents and had all sorts of fun résumé-boosting summer activities and jobs, in my opinion, had to work a lot less for that 3.7 than someone who got the same grades but had to work all throughout school and summers, and support and contribute to their family. To me, that person is the person who would have had a 4.0 if they had the life of the other individual, if they had an easier road. I had a conversation with the head of the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, who told me that if he, a white male, and I got to the same place, that I had to be more talented because I had to overcome way more to get there.

I also think presenting law as a means to change and shape communities will help. People need to see themselves here, and see themselves afterwardsclearly see a path afterwards that aligns with their goals.

UV: There have been some reactions to the piece from progressives who think you’ve left something on the table. Do you think the difficult working conditions and economic model of the legal industry intersect with racial and gender dynamics?

HR: This piece was a memoir, a recounting of my experience, and, as such, can only do so much. No piece can do and be all things, and someone will always think you could have explored something further or talked about something else. I think one of the reasons it has been successful in sparking dialogue is because it is thata recounting. It’s hard to “argue” with someone’s actual experiences. As I learned, a lot of people don’t know or understand the experiences of people of colour. And I’m not done talking about these issues, and other pieces can and will address things left on the table!