Thanks to Southwestern Law School, host of ClassCrits VI Conference

Kudos and great thanks to Southwestern Law School for fabulously hosting the ClassCrits conference this past weekend.  Besides providing superb logistical support from first rate staff, Southwestern set the right tone for our discussions by providing an environment shining with diversity, innovative scholarship, and engaged students (and we could not have had a more beautiful law school setting than Southwestern’s historic art deco building).  A highly professional team of Southwestern Law Review student editors, who will publish selected papers in a symposium issue of their journal, contributed with exemplary professionalism throughout the conference – showing up at 7am with enthusiasm at the conference hotel to guide visiting participants, directing us and staffing registration throughout the day and best of all joining us in exploring the challenging theoretical and practical questions of panel discussions.   Southwestern faculty also contributed a wealth of expertise and energy with their active participation in many panels, and lead organizer, Southwestern Law Professor Danielle Kie Hart combined intellectual vision with outstanding administrative skill to take us in important new directions – not only producing the law review publication but also including community advocates, for example.

  Thanks also to SUNY Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and to the University of California Davis School of Law for their financial support of this event, representing institutional leadership in cutting edge scholarship in pursuit of justice.

    This institutional leadership, and the brilliance, community spirit and commitment to justice of so many participants, was particularly inspiring in this time when vocal critics of legal education are pushing for an increased hierarchy in the profession, insisting that only well-pedigreed elites are worthy of tackling big questions about law and society.   A panel on “Unequal Education” confronted that criticism head on, with Julie Nice (San Francisco Law) analyzing the celebrity faultfinding as a movement with the effect, if not the self-serving purpose, of limiting working class access to the legal profession, in reaction to the substantial evidence of great success and leadership over recent decades from less privileged law graduates and law schools.   Nice, along with audience commentators, emphasized that countering this effort to re-stratify the profession must involve working together across institutional rankings to emphasize that the value of law is less about earning high salaries and more about advancing justice to benefit society.  Lucy Jewel (University of Tennessee Law) astutely developed this theme in her paper, Tales of a Fourth Tier Nothing, a Response to Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools, tying current criticism to earlier, overt efforts to construct a gender, class and race-based two-tier profession and illuminating the cultural benefits of broad access to law school.  Jewel’s paper also notes that defending working class access to the profession requires resisting efforts to casualize legal skills teaching and to divide teaching from scholarship. The panel also included crucial contributions from Victoria Haneman (University of Nevada Las Vegas Law) on the importance of analyzing the student debt forgiveness schemes and Terry Smith and Sumi Cho (DePaul University Law) on the role of faculty governance in defending faculty diversity.   The panel also emphasized that concern for student debt should be directed toward increasing support for education access rather than for exclusion.  That topic was the main focus of a panel organized by Martha Mahoney (Miami Law), with analysis of federal loan policy by Isaac Bowers of Equal Justice Works, and featuring groundbreaking research by Miami law students about innovative ways of assisting indebted students in reducing their costs and resisting arguably deceptive practices by the burgeoning loan servicing industry that profits from student debt.   

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ClassCrits VI Conference Nov. 15-16 Southwestern Law School, L.A.

We are excited about our upcoming conference, Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, Nov. 15-16 2013. See for the latest event information.

While the deadline for papers has closed, we have openings for moderators and works-in-progress commentators. Contact if you have questions or see the web link above.

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ClassCrits Conference Extended Deadline for Papers


ClassCrits VI

Stuck in Forward?

Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political

Sponsored by

Southwestern Law School &

U.C. Davis School of Law

Los Angeles, CA    * November 15-16, 2013

Keynote Speaker: Professor Akhil Gupta, Department of Anthropology

Director, Center for India and South Asia, University of California, Los Angeles

 Proposal Submission Procedure and EXTENDED Deadline
Please submit your proposal by email to by May 15, 2013.  Proposals should include the author’s name, institutional affiliation and contact information, the title of the paper to be presented, and an abstract of the paper to be presented of no more than 750 words.  Junior scholar submissions for works in progress should be clearly marked as “JUNIOR SCHOLAR WORK IN PROGRESS PROPOSAL.”

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Commenting on the commentary about “Accidental Racist”

By Lisa R. Pruitt 

I don’t watch TV or follow much pop culture, and most of the country music I occasionally listen to is on old albums by the likes of Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss.  But this was apparently a “big week” in country music thanks to Brad Paisley and his new album Wheelhouse.  I was on the road on Tuesday, but by the time I was catching up on email early Wednesday morning, I had lots of messages from friends giving me a heads up on the furor associated with Paisley’s new song, “Accidental Racist,” which includes a cameo from LL Cool J.  Commentators have varyingly discussed Paisley and his new song thusly:

In short, as one commentator put it, the song has attracted “an unusual amount of … sneering.”

Eric Weisbard did not sneer in his piece for NPR.  His headline references the history of white southern musical identity, and Weisbard touches on biases against the South, as well as white-on-white biases:

As you may have heard, Paisley is sifting through some rubble of his own right now, having been declared a national laughingstock by virtually all commentators coming from outside mainstream country. But then, this condescending dismissal is nothing new. There is a history to “Accidental Racist,” the history of how white Southern musicians — heatedly, implicitly, at times self-servingly and not always successfully — try to talk about who they are in answer to what others dismissively assume they are.

After all, while the Jim Crow South was Anglo supremacist politically, American culture offered a very different dynamic. Ever since white Northerners started putting out their records, Southern whites have represented a backward rural mindset in a national culture of jazzy modernity.  … Variety loved jazz but scorned the hillbilly in 1926 as ” ‘poor white trash’ genera. The great majority, probably 95 percent, can neither read nor write English. Theirs is a community all to themselves. [They are] illiterate and ignorant, with the intelligence of morons.” Continue reading

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Imploring the Ivy League to attend to rural strivers

By Lisa R. Pruitt

One of the most e-mailed items in the New York Times for the past day or so has been Claire Vaye Watkins “The Ivy League Was Another Planet.” (The alternative headline is “Elite Colleges Are As Foreign as Mars.”) In her op-ed, Watkins recounts her journey from nonmetropolitan Pahrump, Nevada to college at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her story is that of a kid from a working class family in “rural” Nevada (her description; technically, Pahrump is not rural because, though unincorporated, its 2010 population is more than 35,000) who didn’t know about colleges or how to pick one.  Lucky for her, Watkins went on to get an MFA from Ohio State and is now an assistant professor of English at Bucknell.

Watkins writes of getting her wake-up call about dramatic variations in educational resources when she was a high school senior, vying for a prestigious state-funded scholarship. That’s when she met a peer from a Las Vegas high school who attended a magnet school, took college prep courses, had a tutor, and had spent time abroad.  The variations in resources, she realized, were based on geography:  he was an urban kid and she was a rural one.  But they were also based on class.  She doesn’t specify the background of the Vegas teen, but she mentions that her mother and step-father had not gone to college.  I note that Pahrump’s poverty rate is a fairly steep 21.1%.  Just 10.1% of residents there have a bachelor’s degree or better, compared to about 30% nationwide.

Even after meeting the privileged teen from Vegas, however, Watkins didn’t know what she didn’t know.  She remained ignorant of the world of elite colleges, a sector that represented the “other planet” or “Mars” of the headline.  Instead, Watkins applied to UN Reno, she explains, because she had once taken a Greyhound bus to visit friends there. As Watkins expresses it, when poor rural kids apply to college (which, I might add, is altogether too rare), they typically apply to those institutions to which they have been “incidentally exposed.” Continue reading

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Hunting as classed? classless? classy?

By Lisa R. Pruitt 

This story by Felicity Barringer in the New York Times last week-end was a revelation for me–a revelation about the complex linkages between class and hunting.

Barringer’s story is ostensibly about how the state of Utah doles out hunting licenses and manages wildlife, so I figured I’d write a post for Legal Ruralism about those issues.  As I read the story, however, I was struck by the fact that hunting is not only a working class pursuit–as it has been popularly perceived in recent years.  Remember Bittergate during the 2008 presidential race?  If not, refresh your recollection here and here, and mull the title of Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus:  Dispatches from America’s Class Wars.  Indeed, Barringer’s story pits what one might think of as “regular Joe hunters” against rich hunters, which reminds us that people of all socio-economic strata hunt, albeit with different motivations,  trappings, and prey.  (I don’t think those paying big bucks for premium hunting in Utah are after the squirrels Ree killed in Winter’s Bone to feed her younger siblings).

Barringer writes:

More than any state in the West, Utah has expanded hunting opportunities for the well-to-do and has begun to diminish them for those seeking permits directly from the state.

Essentially, “those with means can buy public licenses through private outlets, paying thousands of dollars to move to the head of the line.”  While Utah officials acknowledge this, they say their “increasingly free-market model” results in more revenue they can use for conservation. Continue reading

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Rurality and class as identity, in the context of an elite(ist) institution

By Lisa R. Pruitt

I have been following recent news out of Amherst College about sexual assaults some students have committed against others–and the allegations that Amherst administrators previously tried to hush up these incidents, discouraging victims from pressing charges. Indeed, victims of the sexual assaults have alleged that administrators acted insensitively to their reports, saying things like, “are you SURE it was rape?” and “why don’t you take the semester off and get a job at Starbucks until he graduates.” Read more here, and don’t miss this student website featuring student victims of sexual assault who have “come out” about what happened to them.

In the context of news coverage of these matters, Amherst’s president since summer of 2011, Dr. Biddy Martin, has received mostly positive attention for her handling of the crisis. Richard Perez-Pena, reporting for the New York Times, wrote in his Oct. 26, 2012 story:

Dr. Martin, who is known as Biddy, released a statement that had neither the defensiveness nor the bland wait-and-see that are common to institutional responses, declaring that things “must change, and change immediately.” She made more administrative changes, and said in an interview in her office on Thursday that she is inclined to make more still, like having experts — rather than shifting panels of professors and students — adjudicate complaints.

Now, in a second NYT story published yesterday, Perez-Pena reports further on Dr. Martin’s unusual response to the rapes–unusually confrontational and frank, that is. In doing so, he picks up on aspect of Dr. Martin’s background–one might even say, her identity–and implies that it has relevance to her handling of these sensitive matters. Perez-Pena writes that “no college leader in the country” is as well prepared to face this Amherst controversy, in part because her academic work is about gender and sexuality, in part because she has a “history of tackling … thorny disputes,” and in part because even before this issue came to the fore at Amherst, Martin had begun “overhauling” how the institution deals with sexual assaults.

But Perez-Pena has more to say about why Dr. Martin has responded as she has. What he suggests is that not only Martin’s gender, but also rurality and perhaps class are salient aspects of her identity.

Perez-Pena notes in the story‘s lede that the Amherst controversy “began with a first-person account of an elite college’s callous treatment of a rape victim,” a “woman from the rural South who said she had never felt fully accepted on campus.” Then Perez-Pena writes of Dr. Martin, who grew up in southern Virginia:

And [Martin] is, herself, a woman from the rural South, who attended an elite college where she did not feel fully accepted.

* * *

Her parents, a school secretary and a salesman, “thought girls didn’t need to go to college, and they worried that I would be turned into a liberal lunatic,” she said. “Their greatest fear was that, as they put it, those eggheads would think they were better than we were, and when I went to William and Mary, I did encounter some prejudice.”

As a scholar of German literature, and a lesbian, she did not always fit in back home, either — where, she said, “what mattered was high school football.”

Wow.  Kudos to Perez-Pena for picking up on this part of Dr. Martin’s bio–for seeing the relevance of her class background and the marginalization of the rural in relation to it–especially in the elite(ist) milieu in which Martin now operates. Dr. Martin, it seems, is both insider and outsider; she has experienced being both, along various axes of her identity: gender, sexuality, class–and even geography. And maybe Perez-Pena is right in speculating on the capacity this gives her to empathize with a female student from the rural South, a woman who didn’t feel she accepted at Amherst, even before she was raped there.

It reminds me of this sentence from Perez-Pena’s first report about the Amherst rapes:

Are sex crimes more surprising at a school thought of as elite and supportive of women’s rights, or less surprising at the kind of place often labeled as having a culture entitlement?

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism and Feminist Legal Theory.

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