Boy talk

Gender dynamics in law classes.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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“The classroom is the heart of the Yale Law School intellectual experience,” declares a new report by the student group Yale Law Women. The study, however, focuses largely on a different body part: the mouth.

Called “Yale Law School Faculty and Students Speak Up about Gender: Ten Years Later,” it takes a wide-ranging look at Law School gender dynamics, from who visits more often during office hours (male students) to who writes more recommendations (female professors). The most attention-getting results come from the classroom, where, after adjustment for attendance, male students accounted for more than 57 percent of student participation. What’s more, men’s participation dominated in 71 percent of the class sessions monitored.

In the fall of 2011, student researchers observed 113 classes and recorded all forms of student participation: speaking after raising one’s hand to make a comment or ask a question, speaking after being cold-called, or interrupting. They also interviewed faculty and surveyed students. The outcomes are roughly the same as in a similar study done ten years ago, although the data aren’t directly comparable.

“It’s striking that so little has changed in the classroom,” says Ruth Anne French-Hodson ’12JD, who cochaired the new study with Fran Faircloth ’12JD. “I don’t think either of us expected that. I think the general sense is that things are getting better.” Still, there are reasons for optimism: the gender gap shrank in small classes and when professors called on students whether or not their hands were raised, says Faircloth. Also, since the study was released, professors have been discussing ways to improve teaching.  


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