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    President's Message

    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.

    Michelle Behnke

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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 77, No. 10, October 2004

    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

    Michelle BehnkeOn 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 us.