Why we are teaching Law and Race at the University of Bristol

By Dr Foluke Adebisi, Teaching Fellow (University of Bristol Law School).

‘Education does not change the world. Education changes people. People change the world.’ — Paulo Freire, Brazilian Philosopher and Educator

In the 2018/2019 academic year, Yvette Russell and I will be (for the first time) teaching a unit called Law and Race. It is a very exciting prospect, not least because there are very few law schools in the UK who teach race in any direct or focused way, and much fewer have a unit dedicated to race. This has been an intellectually stimulating enterprise for both of us, and in this article, I would like to explain why we have embarked on it and what we hope to achieve.

The history of the world can be perceived as the history of continuing inequalities. Oftentimes, race functions as the motivation for and justification of oppressive social, cultural, economic and political structures. This is evidenced by colonisation, slavery, and persistent global racial inequalities that cut across gender and class. Law has often been used to create, justify or maintain these demarcations. Notwithstanding this, legal study often ignores the correlation between race and law, as well as the paradox inherent in the use of law to both oppress and liberate. In our unit we aim to examine legal history and the current state of the law in a critical exploration of how legal evolution has impacted upon and caused racial disparities, and how these factors are continuously consciously and unconsciously embedded and reproduced within the operation of law. (more…)

‘The Successful Law Student’ and the student voice

By Imogen Moore, Senior Teaching Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

‘The Successful Law Student: An Insider’s Guide to Studying Law’ (Oxford, 2018), co-authored with Craig Newbery-Jones of the University of Leeds, was written with the aim of supporting and guiding law students through transition, the law degree, and beyond. One of the particular features of the book is the incorporation of authentic student comments to support, challenge and enrich the text. It is the value and significance of this student voice that I intend to focus on in this blog post.

As the slightly quirky design might indicate, ‘The Successful Law Student’ is neither a substantive law textbook nor a conventional legal skills compendium. Our goal was to create a ‘supportive friend’ to assist a law student through the challenges they might face, recognising that every student’s experience will be unique. The book is therefore aimed at any and all aspiring and current law students rather than directed toward any particular ‘type’ of law student, law degree, institution or career aspiration. And at its core is a definition of success rooted in the individual and not dependent on external validation.

A key element of our initial proposal was the inclusion of the authentic and reflective voice of our students, providing their take on aspects of the law student experience: a feature we dubbed ‘I wish I’d known’. This reflects the book’s origins in myriad conversations with prospective, current and former students over many years in different institutions, as well as our own interests, aims, experiences, and occasional frustrations. Our publisher, OUP, supported this by enabling us to communicate with a large number of students beyond our own institutions, ensuring the student voice incorporated within each chapter of ‘The Successful Law Student’ truly reflects the diverse law student community.

We were pleased – but perhaps a little surprised – at just how popular this feature proved to be with reviewers of early drafts. It appeared that using student voice in this way was really valued. Why might this be? (more…)