Surveying Gender Bias at One Midwestern Law School
Taylor, David H.
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The graduating class of 1997 entered Northern Illinois University College of Law (NIUCOL) with 51% women. That figure steadily dropped over the next three years. The graduating class of 2000 entered NIUCOL with just 33% women. This was especially alarming because one of the administration's missions has been to provide access to the legal profession for persons belonging to groups traditionally under-represented in the profession. The decline was viewed as a possible step backward in what had previously been viewed as a very successful effort to recruit higher levels of women students. In an attempt to accurately measure the types and levels of gender hostility in the law school classroom at NIUCOL, the authors conducted a study in which they informally questioned female students about the classroom atmosphere. Anecdotal evidence regarding the "chilly" atmosphere which female students face at NIUCOL then led to the design of a questionnaire which could be distributed to every registered law student at the College of Law. This questionnaire was created to measure whether statistical data would support or refute the anecdotal stories of hostility and harassment uncovered in the informal interviews. The questionnaire solicited the following information: 1) respondents' biographical information, including gender, 2) students' attitudes overall about their law school experience without focusing on gender issues, 3) respondents’ agreement or disagreement with statements concerning gender hostility; 4) whether respondents had ever felt the need to file a complaint over an incident of sexual harassment or gender hostility, whether they had done so, and whether they were ultimately satisfied with the results of that complaint; and 5) a description of acts or comments by professors or fellow students which respondents witnessed or experienced while in law school that made them uncomfortable for gender-based reasons. This article, which reviews the methodology for the survey process described above, also provides a literature review of articles related to sexual bias in the courtroom and sexual bias in the classroom. It further provides recommendations based on the results, including programs for the prevention of gender harassment and mechanisms for addressing gender harassment.