A new research project led by scholars from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law aims to challenge the traditional concept of a legal education by broadening the representation of historically marginalised groups, theories and perspectives.
In a year shaped by global movements including Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, educators and researchers note the timely and practical value of embedding “critical evaluation” skills among the next generation of lawyers.
‘Diversifying the Law Curriculum for the 21st Century’ is a collaborative project headed by Dr Ntina Tzouvala and Associate Professor Kate Ogg with four student-collaborators. Recently awarded a $5,000 grant by the ANU Gender Institute, the project builds on the broader work of the College’s Diversity in the Curriculum Working Group.
In this Q&A, Dr Tzouvala and Dr Ogg elaborate on their project and how students – and society – stand to benefit from a more diverse law curriculum.
What motivated you to establish this project and what are its aims?
Our motivations are both personal and collective. As feminists, legal scholars, and feminist legal scholars, we have watched the relative confinement of feminist approaches to law into the so-called ‘pink ghetto‘. The establishment of specialised courses on feminist legal theory has been a terrific development, but these courses are electives and tend to attract those already familiar with feminist theory and concerns.
Instead, we hope to see a curriculum that is sensitive to the ways each and every legal field affects the lives of women, gender-diverse and LGBT+ people. At the same time, we embark on this effort cognisant of the fact that we, our students, and the College find ourselves on Indigenous lands. We want to ensure that our curriculum also reflects the fact that the Anglo legal system is emphatically not the only legal system that governs these lands. Indigenous law and Indigenous sovereignty compel us to think about feminism, gender and the law also through an Indigenous lens.
Can you describe what the research process will entail?
This project has three steps: the first step, which is in the process of completion, involved the compilation of an extensive, annotated bibliography by four fantastic student-collaborators: Auntie Mulara, Sofia Latham, Salman Tahrir, and Alexandra Butcherine. Albeit not exhaustive (and therefore, a work in progress), this bibliography identifies resources that address questions of Indigeneity, gender and the law and even indicates their suitability for different core courses.
The second step will involve close work with volunteer course convenors. This collaborative process will offer the convenors an opportunity to reflect upon the assigned readings, lecture content, overall structure, and learning outcomes of their courses. In a nutshell, we aim at fundamentally transforming the way we teach the law.
Finally, we are hoping to host an in-person event in late 2022. The event will be open to students and staff from the ANU College of Law and beyond. We see this as an opportunity to not only share our findings with the broader community but also to learn from others as we keep moving forward.
Dr Ntina Tzouvala is a senior lecturer at the ANU College of Law.
Are there any other project collaborators, either at ANU or other law schools or disciplines?
To begin with, we cannot overstate the role of our four student-collaborators. Both at the ANU College of Law and across the world, students have been leading the efforts to change the ways we teach and think about the law, and we would not have it any other way! Further, this project is part of the broader work of the Diversity in the Curriculum Working Group.
We are both members of the group (Dr Ogg is the chair) as are Dr Kelly Frame, Dr Jessica Hambly, Professor Vivien Holmes, Associate Professor Anthony Hopkins, Dr Anne Macduff, Associate Professor Imogen Saunders, Dr Cassandra Steer and Associate Professor Mathew Zagor.
Why is diversifying the law curriculum an important goal, especially for us as the national law school?
We think that all law schools should take similar initiatives (and many are!), but this is particularly important for the national law school. 2021 was marked by public debates about the relationship between allegations of sexual assault, holding public office, and the rule of law. We see it as our job to educate the future generations of lawyers in ways that will enable them to critically evaluate such debates and to further share their insights with the Australian public.
Secondly, ANU has formulated a Reconciliation Action Plan that ‘seeks to embed First Nations people, culture and history into everything the University does‘. Indigenous scholars have warned against ritualistic invocations of reconciliation and we want to contribute to a genuine effort to bring about systematic change.
Dr Kate Ogg is an Associate Professor at the ANU College of Law.
Will there be opportunities for students and/or scholars to engage in this project through workshops, conferences, lecture or other events?
We are planning to hold at least one in-person event in a year’s time. Additionally, we are planning to put together short podcasts that will reflect both upon the substance and the process of this project.