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VOL. 125 | NO. 48 | Thursday, March 11, 2010


U of M Highlights Diversity for Prospective Students

By Rebekah Hearn

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Students pass through the lobby of the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, which was originally built as a U.S. Customs House in the 1880s. Photo: Lance Murphey

This evening, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will host its spring Diversity Outreach Program, designed to attract high school juniors and seniors and college students interested in the law.

The Diversity Outreach Program will be held tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Michael D. Rose Theatre on the main U of M campus.

After many years, the program has brought more diversity to the law school by educating students about a daunting admissions process and providing attendees with information on careers in the law. It’s held at the U of M law school every fall and spring semester.

The university’s undergraduate programs have one of the highest percentages of African-American students enrolled, “probably top 10, top 5, easily,” said Yolanda Ingram, assistant dean for Student Affairs and director of the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law. However, the law school’s enrollment is comparable to that of other law schools – its minority enrollment is about 14 percent, a number the school looks to increase with events such as tonight’s outreach and the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law summer program.

Putting the pieces together

The law school’s Diversity Outreach Program is funded by a $1,000 grant per session from the Law School Admissions Council, the entity that puts out the Law School Admissions Test. Ingram said the LSAC donates a grant to any law school willing to host such a program.

“As most people in the legal field are aware, the number of minority attorneys is still not anywhere near the number of minorities that are in society,” said Ingram.

“As most people in the legal field are aware, the number of minority attorneys is still not anywhere near the number of minorities that are in society.”

– Yolanda Ingram, director, Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law

To earn the LSAC grant, the program should raise the awareness of the low number of minority attorneys in the field and “provide information to minority students about getting into law school, what it takes, and having admissions workshops,” said Ingram.

Targeting the right audience is important for the program.

“The deadline (for law school admission) passed March 1, but this is early awareness, so we’re really targeting college freshmen,” Ingram said. “(College) sophomores and juniors are welcome as well, as long as they’re not looking at enrollment in the fall of this year. And then high school juniors and seniors are also the target audience.”

Getting out the word early about the various law school admissions processes has proven helpful for students, so bringing in even the youngest group, high school juniors, can help them down the line if they choose a legal career path.

“Last year, we brought a lot of high school students in to the law school,” Ingram said. “This year we decided to make it during the evening so they wouldn’t have to miss class ... and parents are welcome.”

Among the evening’s “broad agenda of events” is a panel discussion by local attorneys, all of whom are U of M law school graduates and African-American.

“Many of the attorneys on the panel actually went through the law school’s Diversity Alternative Admissions Program,” said Ingram.

The panel moderator is Barbara Dean, president of the Memphis chapter of the National Bar Association, the legal organization for African-Americans. The panel members will talk about their experiences in law school and now as practicing attorneys, taking questions from the audience.

Positive outcome

Besides the biannual Diversity Outreach, the law school co-sponsors the Memphis Bar Association’s Summer Law Internship Program for minority high school juniors and seniors.

Also, the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law’s summer program, the state’s only diversity admissions program for law school, is held annually in Memphis. The U of M law school and the University of Tennessee College of Law operate the TIP program.

It targets state residents who aren’t admitted to a Tennessee law school through the regular admissions process, but who “show potential for the study of law and bring diversity to the class,” according to a description of the program on the American Bar Association’s diversity Web site, www.abanet.org/PipelineDiversity.

The goal of TIP is to recruit minorities into law school.

Tracking the number of minority students the law school attracts with the Diversity Outreach Program is a trickier task, said Ingram.

“As far as the outreach program, it’s a little difficult to track that data, because some of the students are as young as high school juniors. So they may go away to college somewhere and then, six years later, they’re back in Memphis. So we really don’t have the mechanism to track that data,” Ingram explained.

“But we do ask, when we’re recruiting law students for the incoming class, ‘How did you hear about us? Did you attend these types of (diversity) events?’ And quite a few students do indicate they attended these programs.”

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