All across the country universities and their professional schools have been grappling with the proper design of initiatives to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. One thing that has been missing, noticed Norm Spaulding, JD ’97, Nelson Bowman Sweitzer and Marie B. Sweitzer Professor of Law, is a centralized set of resources grounded in research on what works. “Lots of people have been proposing ideas and pursuing reforms. But I couldn’t find a broad, research-based platform on DEI topics and best practices,” he says.
Recognizing a need for information and guidance on how to design, assess, and implement positive changes to improve discussions across differences on charged subjects, Spaulding collaborated with Stanford’s Crown Law Library reference librarians and Stanford Law students to help fill the void. The aim was to make DEI research more widely accessible in legal education—and beyond. Today, those e forts have culminated in the launch of the Clearinghouse on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Research, which he says, “provides a single site for any university administrator, faculty, instructor, staff, and student interested in learning about DEI in the context of teaching and learning.” The website launched in the spring as a free tool for all. It currently offers resources for incorporating DEI issues into law school classes, aggregates material on DEI pedagogy from other professional disciplines (such as medicine, psychology, education, engineering, business), identifies best practices for teaching in higher education, and much more.
Filling an Unmet Need for DEI Data
When Spaulding first approached Beth Williams, associate dean of Crown Library, about the idea for the clearinghouse project, she enthusiastically agreed. “My team, like the rest of the world, was looking for ways to feel like they were making a positive impact on these issues,” recalls Williams.
“A lot of research is involved in the questions addressed by the clearinghouse, so that’s where reference librarians come in,” says Taryn Marks, associate director of research and instructional services, who helped lead the law library’s efforts to design the clearinghouse website. “Pretty much everyone in the library has touched this at some point in time.”
Spaulding and Marks also collaborated with interested students to gather and index research related to DEI through a policy practicum they co-taught. Then the team set out to design a way to make it accessible online.
One of the clearinghouse’s first initiatives was designing a section of the website dedicated to helping faculty who want to address diverse perspectives in core 1L classes. It cross-references commonly taught cases with scholarship that provides deeper context on those cases. The goal was to reduce the entry costs to addressing race, gender, and other aspects of identity by providing background to inform those discussions.
As this law-specific content grew, the team turned to other important topics, including principles of academic freedom and supporting open discourse, research on specific pedagogic techniques for facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom, and quantitative and qualitative assessments of the effectiveness of DEI training.
“Nobody has tied together these resources in this way,” Williams says. She also notes that the research went well beyond legal scholarship. “One of the things that’s great about the scope of this project is that we couldn’t just look at legal literature. It had to go well beyond that because there’s not enough in the way of expertise on this subject that’s specific to law school, so we had to look at the scholarly literature of all kinds of other subject areas.”
Spaulding says he hopes the clearinghouse will be a platform for any stakeholder in higher education to find resources. “The team has attended not only to social justice perspectives and traditionally underrepresented voices but to political viewpoint diversity and the importance of academic freedom. I take that piece of it very seriously,” he says.
Students Contribute Research and Technical Skills
Charlotte Hendren, JD ’22, came to law school committed to doing public interest work. When she learned that Spaulding—a mentor since she was a 1L—was starting the clearinghouse, she enrolled in the practicum right away.
“First-year classes at many law schools have taught the same subjects using the same case law for years,” says Hendren, currently a Stanford Law School Public Interest Fellow at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in the Constitutional and Administrative Law Division. But now, Hendren notes, professors have deeper resources to incorporate discussions about diversity.
“I commend Stanford for putting its money where its mouth is on these issues,” says Hendren. “That’s not to say that it’s a perfect institution and they have everything figured out, but I think it’s great that they’re working on it and they’re taking it seriously.”
Getting Reforms Right
Poorly designed DEI interventions can be counter-productive, Spaulding says, raising resistance to diversity without actually helping those whose perspectives and experiences haven’t been shared or heard. “At the same time, there are studies in a range of disciplines finding that when diversity is not only present in an institution but diverse perspectives are shared (rather than suppressed or withheld), better judgments are reached.”
“The clearinghouse is a way to help institutions of higher education achieve this still latent potential of diversity by grounding their interventions in research and staying aware of r search-based innovations,” says Jenny Martinez, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. “For lawyers, who are almost always working across differences in perspective and experience in the practice of law, this is essential. This kind of innovative project is essential to legal education and education broadly. I’m thrilled that Norm, Taryn, and the team undertook this initiative.”
Now that the project is out of beta, the Crown Law Library will take stewardship of the project. Williams says the library will be managing and regularly updating the content with the assistance of student library fellows, incorporating feedback from users, tracking the expansion of research in the field, and raising the profile of the clearinghouse. “It signals what the priority of the institution and our little part of the institution is, that these issues are live and we’re actively engaged in trying to push the needle a little bit further.”
To learn more, go to https://law.stanford.edu/clearinghouse-on-diversity-equity-inclusion-research.
Suzi Morales is an attorney and freelance journalist who regularly writes for the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, Diversity Woman Media, and several law schools.