UNH Law Professor Wins Prestigious National Diversity Award

UNH Law Professor Wins Prestigious National Diversity Award

Thursday, December 15, 2011
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Professor Sarah Redfield has been named the 2012 Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by the American Bar Association’s Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline.

The national recognition highlights Professor Redfield’s groundbreaking work to ensure that students of all backgrounds and ethnicities are able to pursue the dream of law school.  The focus of her work for close to a decade has been on diversity and inclusiveness, particularly in the legal profession. In this, she calls attention to a national problem that requires long-term attention ­– a 90 percent white bar in the United States. While the legal profession has sought to increase its diversity, efforts have been slow.

“The problem is one of large scope and one that needs long-term, focused attention,” Redfield says. “When the legal profession wants to increase its diversity, the practice is quick to say there are not enough diverse lawyers, and to look to the law schools for greater numbers. Law schools report similarly, that the pool of qualified diverse applicants is limited.”

Redfield takes a wider view. “Kids are not being equally well educated in K-12,” she says, “and therefore not going on in equal numbers to college, and therefore not going on in equal numbers to law school.”

Redfield says her own background and experiences led her to this focus. Growing up in Maine in a household with modest income, she was first in her family to go to college.

“My education, first at Mount Holyoke, and later at Northeastern and Harvard law schools, changed my life from what it otherwise might have been,” she says. “I’ve had a really incredible educational life, and learned particularly valuable skills. Somewhere from that came the idea that I should use that education to give back.”

Redfield’s pipeline work began a decade ago in Sacramento, CA, while she was a visiting professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. There, she and the school’s dean, Elizabeth Parker, created a program that provided legal education to students at a new charter law-themed school at Sacramento High.

“We got invested in a law-themed education for high school students and what that might mean and what it might bring to kids,” she says. “We realized how much the legal community had to give to young students in terms of what the Gates Foundation has called the new 3Rs: rigor, relevance and relationships. It became pretty clear that it was a big project, and we started looking for other partners in the Sacramento community and beyond.” From the outset, Redfield’s work focused on the value of collaboration.

As the project progressed, Redfield says, she and Parker wanted to reach out to peers and discuss best practices. “We decided to see how other law schools were doing this,” she says.

So began Redfield’s national mission, and a semester stay at McGeorge turned into four years.

Her goal was to create a network of law schools and educational professionals around the country who were focused on making law school an attainable dream for students. She and Parker started with a small conference, sponsored by the Johnson Foundation at facility called Wingspread.

“From that grew the idea that law schools should get out of their silos and work with other parts of their communities to close the achievement gap and improve diversity in the profession,” she says.

The Wingspread meetings began as a gathering of seven teams from law schools around the country. Redfield and Parker were surprised to find how few schools were involved in pipeline efforts, and even more surprised to realize how few talked with each other about it.

“We issued a call to action to other law schools to engage in the pipeline work,” Redfield says, and over the next several years the Wingspread conference grew, eventually outgrowing its space and becoming a nonprofit organization dedicated to the effort.

But there were still gaps in the conversation. “Not very many people were writing about it in a critical kind of way,” Redfield says. “And where things were successful, people weren’t writing about that, either. Those who were engaged in the day-to-day pipeline programs were too busy to write about them. Out of that, I saw the need for somebody to take on the academic piece of this work, and I felt that that was something I could bring to the table.”

Redfield, already an author of books and articles about education law, Redfield expanded her writing to focus on diversity and pipeline issues, starting with several law review and publications. She published her first book on pipeline efforts, “Diversity Realized: Putting the Walk With the Talk for Diversity in the Legal Profession,” in 2009. She has since continued to be widely published on the subject, with an article on “Hispanics and the Pipeline to the Legal Profession” appearing in the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Journal of Law and Policy this past summer, and a chapter in the upcoming book “The End of the Pipeline: A Journey of Recognition for African Americans Entering the Legal Profession” Her most recent book, “Education Pipeline to the Professions: Programs That Work to Increase Diversity,” for which she is the editor, is due out this month.

UNH Law Dean John Broderick cites “the respect we all hold for (Redfield’s) collaborative approach and her commitment to work with others to achieve the real work that needs to be done if we are to change the face of the profession.”

Parker calls Redfield’s work on the educational pipeline “exemplary and transformational.” “Thanks to Sarah’s work,” she says, “the idea of a diversity pipeline from pre-school to the profession has become widely accepted, almost commonplace.” And, she adds, “Conceivably, without Sarah’s efforts, this award itself might not exist.”

After years of writing about the issue and traveling the country to share her findings and talk with educators involved in pipeline efforts, Redfield sees progress, but not enough. She can rattle off a list of programs big and small around the country, and, perhaps even more gratifying, some of the novel ideas she and Parker espoused long ago “are now just part of the vocabulary.”

But, she says, “Where are the results? We have all these great people working on all these great programs. It is not that there are no results, but it is far from enough.”

For more information on the award or the American Bar Association's Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, please visit http://www.americanbar.org/groups/diversity/diversity_pipeline.html.