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Black law students push for increased diversity at UBC law school

January 25, 2021

By Vancouver Sun |

Rebecca Barclay Nguinambaye always had a keen interest in social justice — and she was lucky enough to have the family support and mentorship that made a career in law seem possible.

“It’s not the reality for many students,” Nguinambaye said at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law.

Nguinambaye, one of a handful of Black law scholars among approximately 600 students in Allard’s program, wants to ensure other Black students have access, opportunity and support to pursue careers in law.

The 27-year-old is the co-president (with Dinah Holliday) of the Black Law Students’ Association at Allard, and this year the duo — who make up half of Allard’s four Black law undergrads — is organizing the first Black Pre-Law Conference to invite Black undergraduate students to consider law school.

The BLSA, a national organization founded in 1991, provides community, networking opportunities and advocacy.

“Because of the times we are living in, the reality of the low numbers in law, we have taken on an advocacy role to recruit more students, address systemic racism, and get more diversity in the faculty.”

Allard has one Black tenure-track faculty member, said Nguinambaye.

“Like many law students, I had a keen interest in social justice,” said Nguinambaye. As a member of a marginalized group, she said, those issues were magnified. “I was interested in helping others and identifying areas of improvement in society and law, to some extent, it encourages a critical lens and advocacy”

In August 2020 the association, with support from UBC, held its first free LSAT preparatory course for Black law school hopefuls. The course, which will run semi-annually, attracted 40 participants.

LSAT prep courses run between $1,000 to $2,000. Black students face several barriers — lack of representation means other important, but less tangible supports, are missing.

“The small number of Black lawyers means we are less likely to have connections within our communities, less likely to have a lawyer in our family or social networks, and (face) systemic racism and barriers. The schools we go to are less likely to have strong career planning centres to direct us to professional degrees, and the messages we get — that Black people are over represented on the carcaral (prison) side and less represented on the justice side, are ones we internalize to lower the confidence when thinking about a legal career,” said Nguinambaye.

The group’s Black Pre-Law Conference will be held online on Saturday January 30, with keynote speaker Lesra Martin, a Kamloops-based Black lawyer who helped secure the release of Rubin Hurricane Carter.

“The aim of the conference is to make law more visible to Black students, tell them what law is about, show them what black students are doing in law, meet lawyers, have a taste of a law lecture and start building those connections,” said Nguinambaye.

The conference is free, and includes lunch provided through Uber Eats. Interested students can register through Event Brite or the UBC Black Law Students’ Association’s Facebook page.

Nguinambaye said she is gratified to see more supports being added at all levels of the institution at UBC.

“Being under-represented is still a struggle, but we are seeing a shift. I’m hopeful that we can build a strong community and I want black students to know we have a lot to offer within the legal community”