June 2022 Dean’s Corner - Dean’s Corner: A Commitment to Diversifying the Legal Profession

by Marisa S. Cianciarulo

As a professor at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law for more than fifteen years, I have enjoyed a firsthand view of the tremendous progress made by this relatively young law school. Now, as its interim dean, I’m excited to continue the forward momentum established by our previous dean, Matt Parlow.

Not only do I have the honor of serving the Fowler School of Law community in an elevated capacity, but as the law school’s first female dean, I am proud to continue to promote Chapman’s sincere commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion—an area of the university’s mission for which I am particularly passionate.

This academic year, we welcomed not only the numerically strongest class in the Fowler School of Law’s history—with a median LSAT score of 160 and median undergraduate GPA of 3.60—but also our most diverse, with a record 52% of incoming students belonging to ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the legal profession and 28% of the class being first-generation college students. Fostering greater inclusion and equity in the legal profession is a top priority for our law school, and it begins with recruiting a class that is more reflective of the communities we serve.

Last spring, the Fowler School of Law joined the California Leadership-Access-Workforce (Cal LAW) Pathways program as one of its institutional partners. The Cal LAW Community College Pathway to Law School initiative is a program that creates a clear educational pipeline for diverse students from high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions into law schools or law-related careers.

In addition to California LAW Pathways, our Office of Admission regularly organizes and participates in a variety of other pipeline programs and events to help achieve greater diversity in the field of law, partnering with local elementary schools and high schools, as well as community colleges and undergraduate institutions. The Fowler School of Law also previously received a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Law School Admission Council to host the Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program, which provides an immersive law school experience to undergraduate students from underrepresented groups each summer.

Our own student organizations play an essential role in our outreach efforts. For example, our Minority Law Student Association and Latinx Law Student Association help organize our annual Diversity Day event, which exposes hundreds of junior and senior high school students from the Santa Ana Unified School District to university and law school programs and encourages them to pursue careers in the law. Our student-run Diversity and Social Justice Forum holds an annual symposium on issues of social justice, typically paired with the release of the DSJ Forum, a practice-oriented online publication featuring legal and policy solutions to various humanitarian concerns.

Another way in which we actively encourage greater participation from traditionally underrepresented groups is by offering scholarships for first-generation college students. Once those students matriculate, we continue to support them through our First Generation Scholars Program, which hosts workshops, seminars, and social events to foster academic success and professional development.

In recognition of our leadership in increasing diversity in our industry, the Fowler School of Law was recently awarded the Orange County Hispanic Bar Association’s annual Corporate Citizen Award at its 2022 annual Scholarship Gala. We’re proud to be recognized in our local community where our graduates have the most impact.

We’re also proud to be innovators in the field of legal education. A great example is the establishment last year of the Wylie A. Aitken Professor of Law, Race, and Social Justice, a professorship which supports a faculty member whose teaching, scholarship, and/or service furthers Chapman University’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. The first recipient of the professorship, Janine Kim, has gained national recognition for her scholarship on issues of race and social justice.

Over the years, the Fowler School of Law has received numerous additional accolades for our collective efforts in this area, including six Law School Admission Council DiscoverLaw.Org Diversity Matters Awards, a CLEO EDGE Award for Greater Equality, and recognition as one of preLaw Magazine’s “Most Diverse Law Schools” for several years—including being named one of the Top 30 law schools for both Hispanics and Asians in its most recent issue.

All of this is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our students, faculty, and staff, who truly believe in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’m honored to be part of such a passionate and dedicated team and community. I look forward to continuing to create a more equitable and accessible legal industry together.

Marisa S. Cianciarulo is Interim Dean, Donald P. Kennedy Chair in Law, and Doy & Dee Henley Chair in Law at the Dale. E. Fowler School of Law, where she specializes in immigration law with a human rights focus. Dean Cianciarulo can be reached at cianciar@chapman.edu.