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Battle for diversity

/ UCLA Today

In the wake of Proposition 209,  the statewide initiative that bars public universities from using race or gender as a consideration for admissions, University of California law schools have experienced a severe decline in African-American and Latino enrollment.

At the UCLA School of Law, only three African-American students and 18 Latino students were part of this fall's entering first-year class. But those statistics, highlighted recently at a  "teach-in" on diversity attended by 200 students and faculty, do not reflect the intensive efforts the school is making to attract men and women to the student body who reflect the wide geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic  backgrounds of the general population, school representatives said.

"We are working hard to attract and retain underrepresented students of color in a lawful and effective manner, and the  school is seeking to increase student and alumni participation in the efforts," said Dean Jonathan D. Varat.

The Law Fellows Program, for example, focuses on helping undergraduate students  develop their academic skills in the classroom and through service-learning opportunities. Law school faculty and staff provide high-potential, socioeconomically disadvantaged undergraduates with intensive early academic enrichment  in conjunction with extensive mentoring, career development activities and seminars designed to increase the competitiveness of Fellows for law school admission.

The program has been  expanded beyond UCLA students to include undergraduates from other local colleges, including the California State University system.

While the Law Fellows Program is, at its heart, a  long-term endeavor, it has already produced several success stories, according to Leo Trujillo-Cox, director of outreach and the coordinating instructor for the program.

Two UCLA Law Fellows  are enrolled in the first-year class at the UCLA School of Law, another is at the USC Law Center and a fourth entered the Law School of George Washington University this fall. The program is facilitated through the Wallis  Foundation, by UCLA alumni Jeff Glassman and Cecilia Aguilera, a 1988 graduate of the UCLA School of Law, in association with the UCLA Career-Based Outreach Program and the UC Office of the President.

  But the law school is not just working with college students; another initiative aims at immersing disadvantaged high school students in campus life at UCLA as well as the law. Last year, this program  helped identify and fund 30 motivated but economically disadvantaged high school scholars and hosted them on campus for a one-week residential legal education program or "law camp."

The  teenagers stayed in UCLA residence halls and participated in mock trial preparatory workshops, attended classes designed to expand their understanding of the legal system, refined their research skills, worked with experienced  group leaders in team-building and leadership activities and learned about life on a university campus.

Once students are admitted, the law school makes every effort to ensure that  all students are provided with a sense of community and an environment conducive to academic success, said Trujillo-Cox.

The law school's academic support program is recognized nationwide  for its effectiveness, according to its director, 1997 Professor of the Year Kristine Knaplund.

Students themselves offer a collegial environment. Among the 27 student law  organizations or publication groups active at the school, several are devoted to providing support and advocacy to specific student populations.

"As UCLA School of Law launches its golden  anniversary, there's a renewed commitment to uphold the tradition and the responsibility of the public university to be as inclusive as possible," said Varat.

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