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Racial Integration 2.0: History and Critique

by Jeannine Bell and Dave Trubek

LSA has held itself out as having expertise on race issue: but how deep and effective is this research? In 2003, the Law and Society Association signed on to the American Sociological Association’s brief in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Michigan affirmative action case.  In the brief, LSA claimed “’expertise” in research and discussing race.” (Obasagie, 2007) Yet some scholars have questioned the extent to which LSA scholarship on race has been sufficient. (Gomez, 2012; Obasagie, 2007). 

What about the issue of discussions of race within LSA itself? There is some anecdotal evidence that some individuals involved in the organization discussed racial diversity. For the past 30 years, LSA has used formal and informal mechanisms in an attempt to increase the diversity of its membership.   Such mechanisms include:  multi-year attempt to increase the representation of people of color throughout the Association’s committee structure; multi-year attempts to increase the representation of people of color in the organization’s governing structures, as officers and trustees; attempts to count the number of  people of color who are members; the creation of a diversity committee; and the publication of an issue on race by the Law and Society featuring the scholarship of several scholars of color. 

Despite these efforts, scholars of color have not achieved full integration throughout Association activities and scholarship on race issues has not achieved the prominence it deserves.  To compare increasing racial diversity to another area in which concerted efforts for change has been sought—internationalization—efforts at increasing U.S. based racial diversity have not been especially successful.  One conference every five years is generally held outside the United States; currently approximately twenty-five percent of the LSA members come from outside the U.S.  While the precise number of members of the association who are persons of color is not known, it is clear that the highest ranks of the Association remain largely white.  In the Association’s history, just one person of color has served as Association President.  Fewer than five scholars of color have served as officers.  Few scholars of color have chaired the Association’s most prestigious committees and won its most valuable prizes. 

Over the years, several LSA members who care about increasing the number of non-whites in the Associations have mourned those individuals of color who have come, spent a little time in the association and moved on.  The root causes of this have not been examined, and it is not clear whether scholars of color experience with LSA differs from that in other disciplinary associations.  In some ways, the paucity of integration is unsurprising.  For in LSA, with respect to the coin of the realm, research and the accolades associated with research, the contributions of people of color have not been overlooked.  The Association does not expend enough effort to encourage this type of work.  For instance, there is little LSA sponsored collaboration across racial lines.  For instance, there is just one, fairly recently created Collaborative Research Network CRN devoted to race [CRN 12 Critical Research on Race and the Law].  Finally, interaction at the Annual Meeting functions largely like the rest of American society, less integration of panels, discussions, and social events than one might wish for given 30 years of attempts to bring people of color closer to the center of the organization.


The measures taken by the Association over the past 30 years suggest that members of the Association have a commitment to full integration of people of color and to promote more attention to research on racial issues.  So what is to be done?  LSA has spent the last 30 years picking the low hanging fruit with respect to diversification. There are several challenges that require courage and thinking outside of the box.

  1. Increasing the numbers.  The paucity of scholars of color who come into the association, become members and stay increases the difficulty of moving beyond the most basic steps to achieve fuller integration of scholars of color.

  2. Resisting our Inclination toward business as usual.  American society in general is racially segregated.  As a result, in American academic settings inclusion is rarely second nature.  We tend to choose people with whom we might normally associate for research collaborators, panel chairs, committees, etc. 

Looking ahead: Concrete Proposals

Can we better integrate scholars of color in all Association activities and increase the visibility of sociolegal scholarship on race?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Promote research collaboration across racial lines:  Sponsor discussions on the topic of interracial collaboration on research.   This might begin with identifying successful cross-race research collaborations.

  2. Increase Chairs.  Scholars of color who have history of engagement with the association should be appointed to chair important committees including Prize committees and nominations committee.

  3.  Go where the people of color are:  If we want to attach larger numbers of people of color we might consider having our international meeting in locales populated by large numbers of nonwhite population—i.e. the Global South, Mexico. 

  4. Listening.  People of color may be the best source of information regarding how our interests might be best integrated.   People of color who are longstanding members of the Association need to be asked about their experiences as persons of color in LSA. They should also be asked to identify what, if any barriers they see to fuller integration.
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