In what may be a first, study publishes empirical data about Black law students’ race and ethnicity

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People with two U.S. born, non-Hispanic Black parents comprise 11.71% of the general population, but only 6.34% of law students, according to a law review article recently published in the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy.

Titled Racial and Ethnic Ancestry of the Nation’s Black Law Students: An Analysis of Data from the LSSSE Survey, the article bases its research on data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement and the American Community Survey’s Public Use Microdata Sample. It was written by Kevin Brown and Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, both of whom are professors at Indiana University Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law.

According to the authors, this is the first empirical data published on Black law students’ race and ethnicity. Besides a category for those with two U.S.-born Black parents, referred to as “Ascendant Blacks,” the study classifies “Successive Blacks,” which included students with immigrant parents, Black Hispanics and Black multiracial students who identify as being two or more races.

Black Hispanics comprise 0.81% of the total population and 0.71% of law students, the article states. Black immigrants make up 2.8% of the general population and 2.89% of law students, while Black multiracial students represent 1.63% of the general population and 1.43% of law students.

For students with two Black parents born in the U.S., a distinction from other groups is that their ancestors suffered through slavery and segregation, Dau-Schmidt and Brown wrote. The same was true for half of Black students, at most, in the other categories, the two estimated.

“Thus, our core assumption is that by virtue of their ancestry, in general, Ascendant Blacks have been more negatively affected by the history of racial oppression in the United States than any of the groups of Successive Blacks and, thus, have more experience with the impact of that history,” they wrote.

The authors also looked at gender.

“In each group of Black people, the men show substantial underrepresentation in comparison with the women in their group, and Ascendant Black men are the most underrepresented with a ratio of 0.40,” the authors wrote. “This means that law schools would have to enroll almost two and a half times as many Ascendant Black males as are currently enrolled in order for Ascendant Black males to achieve parity in law schools with their representation in the general population.”

Their research also found that for law students with two U.S.-born non-Hispanic Black parents, there was a 25.9% poverty rate. Comparatively, the poverty rate was 22.2% for those who identified as Black Hispanics, 16.6% for students with Black immigrant parents, and 17.3% for students who are part-Black. For white students, the poverty rate was 7.5%.

Parents’ educations were examined, too. Among all Black students, at least 12.3% had parents with professional degrees or PhDs. Comparatively, among the general population, only 4.1% of people between the ages of 42 and 49 have professional degrees or PhDs, according to the article.

“A quick review reveals both that class is very important in attendance of law school and that there are real socioeconomic differences among the various groups of Black law students. First, in comparing the distribution of parents’ educational achievement for each group with the distribution for the general population, we see that the parents of the students in all of the examined groups are, on average, much more educated than the general population,” the authors wrote.

Among all groups of Black law students at the top-50 ranked schools, undergraduate grade-point averages were between 3.36 and 3.5, according to the article. For students with LSAT scores above 155, 7.5% had two Black parents born in the U.S., compared to 16.7% of Black Hispanics, 10.9% of Black immigrants and 20.4% of students who were multiracial.

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