Vol. 77, No. 10, October
Diversity is For All of Us
Diversity is not a narrow issue, nor is it just about race. Real
diversity recognizes the whole person. And more, it is about real
opportunity. Diversity is for all of us; here's why.
by Michelle A. Behnke
On Aug. 25, 2004, Louis B. Butler Jr. was sworn in as the
newest justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When Gov. Doyle announced
the appointment, he said that he was determined to find the very best,
most qualified person for the job. He also said that he thought that it
was important to the people of Wisconsin that the Wisconsin Supreme
Court reflect the changing demographics of Wisconsin.
I was especially moved by Gov. Doyle's emphasis on Justice Butler's
qualifications, intellect, and commitment to justice. Often racial
diversity is noted in such a way that diversity seems like a four-letter
word. The other strengths that the person brings to the table are
overlooked, ignored, or worse, assumed not to exist. Fortunately, this
time, there was a real recognition of the whole person. Recognition that
in addition to racial diversity, Justice Butler brings to the supreme
court practice diversity, as a former public defender, and geographic
diversity, as a Milwaukee resident. A recognition that diversity is
important for all of us.
Some people may dismiss "diversity" as a narrow issue that has little
or no impact on their lives. However, Wisconsin, like much of the rest
of the country, is experiencing demographic change. Recent census data
show that Wisconsin's population is almost 12 percent minorities
(including Black or African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native,
Asian and other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino origin); and the
percentage is higher when you add people who indicate "other" or
multiracial heritage. In 2003, the U.W. Law School's entering class was
made up of 26 percent students of color and 44 percent women. The class
entering Marquette Law School in 2003 was 8 percent students of color
and 47 percent women. These future lawyers are more diverse and they
will serve an increasingly diverse clientele.
The issues of diversity facing the State Bar are similar to those
faced by many business organizations. A recent article from the New
York Times Magazine stated: "Diversity means many things to many
people - but one thing is certain. Creating a culture of inclusion that
celebrates and leverages diverse perspectives - from race, gender, age,
language, and country of origin to educational background, sexual
orientation, and physical disabilities - is a central objective of the
country's most forward-thinking organizations."
The State Bar recognizes diversity as an important issue, and thus
far, two key committees - Diversity Outreach and Gender Equity - have
taken on much of the work in this area. This year both committees have
been structurally changed to better focus their efforts. If the State
Bar is to make real and lasting progress in the area of diversity, we
have to concentrate our efforts, measure our success, and as necessary,
retool our programs to be more successful.
The work of diversity cannot be left to two committees alone. We need
each member, committee, division, and section of the Bar to work to
further the State Bar's strategic goal of diversity. Ask yourself: "What
group is not included in the work of my committee, division, or
section?" "What group is not involved in my local bar association?"
"What issues cross racial, ethnic, and gender lines, yet need solutions
that work for a variety of people?" For instance, a poor woman in rural
northern Wisconsin and a poor woman in Racine may have very different
heritages - but may face the same issues of affordability of and access
to legal services. Finding the solutions will take a variety of
viewpoints and experiences.
Diversity is about opportunity - the opportunity to dream, strive,
and achieve. It would be a tragedy to all to dismiss the efforts of
diversity as special favors for a few. Yes, diversity is for all of