Call for Submissions: Confronting Systemic Racism and Sexism in Legal Academia

Call for Submissions: Confronting Systemic Racism and Sexism in Legal Academia

By now, many of us have stumbled headfirst into the sewage of the Sewell Report. For those who missed it, the British government released a report on racial disparities that denies the structural character of racism in British society. In fact, the authors went further, proclaiming the UK as an exemplar of racial equality that other White-majority states should emulate.

Mostly absent from the report is any rigorous discussion of tertiary education and the disparities that are common across the sector, not to mention in legal academia specifically. To illustrate the relevance of universities to debates about systemic racism, consider that of the 21,000 professors working at British universities, only 140 or .7% identify as Black. Contrast this paltry figure with the 18,000 (85%) who classified as White. To appreciate the material and symbolic implications of this ratio, recognise that it means most British universities employ between 0 and 2 Black professors, in the aggregate.

At least universities have progressed on the issue of gender disparity, we are told. For example, Philippe Sands proclaims that “the gender balance of those teaching law has largely been sorted.” Unfortunately, his claim is hyperbolic with male professors in the UK still outnumbering their female counterparts by three to one. British law schools could celebrate employing a record number of Black female professors across disciplines. Alternatively, they might confess that 11 professors spread across over one hundred law schools is an unenviable figure. Given that 1/3 of the 70,000 students studying law in the UK self-identify as BAME* and that over 65% are female, this means most are unlikely to ever learn from someone who looks like them.

For Opinio Juris, the timing of the Sewell Report was fortuitous. We were in the midst of contemplating a powerful autobiographical submission from a racialised female scholar at one of the UK’s prestigious institutions. In her essay, she tackles diversity and representation in international law publishing – an issue I wrote about recently regarding the AJIL. Quoting from her submission:

More recently, the difficulties I faced with publishing my DPhil thesis have led me to seriously question the transparency, diversity and representation of the international law monograph series of two mainstream academic publishers, namely, Oxford University Press (OUP) and Cambridge University Press (CUP).


While I will never know for sure why (and how) my book proposal was rejected, the numbers show that at least the three international law monograph series I sampled generally lack diversity and representation of female and Global South voices.

We were excited to publish her contribution, but unlike the Sewell Commission we are sympathetic to the structural character of the experiences she describes and believe that a structural problem demands a structural response. We have thus decided to host a symposium on racism and sexism in legal academia.

We invite legal scholars, postgraduate candidates, and undergraduate students to contribute posts that explore their experiences of racism and sexism in lecturing and studying, researching and publishing, and generally just being BAME and / or female in the legal academy. While we begin our investigation with racism and sexism in British law schools, we welcome submissions from around the world on disparate forms of bias that colleagues and students struggle against. Like the submission above, yours might showcase a personal narrative, just as you may opt to engage with the issue from a statistical, analytical, critical, or even creative perspective.

Those interested in contributing to the symposium should contact me by 19 May 2021 with a tentative title and abstract of 150 words ( I aim to compile roughly 10-15 submissions and commit to being inclusive in the selection process, ensuring wide representation of identities, approaches, and ideologies. My co-blogger Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, and our managing editor, Jessica Dorsey, will assist with the exercise.

If selected, you are to submit a post in the range of 1600-2000 words by 15 August 2021. The style of writing should cohere with the norms of a scholarly blog rather than those of an academic journal (for guidance, please see our submission guidelines here). Opinio Juris will publish the invited submissions as a symposium in September 2021.**

We look forward to coordinating a symposium that confronts systemic racism and sexism in legal academia and expresses solidarity with the experiences of our racialised colleagues and students.

*We are familiar with the controversy surrounding the BAME label and use it only as it appears in the dataset.

**We understand that racism and sexism are contentious topics and that fear of reprisal might discourage some from participating. To protect the identity of contributors, we are willing to anonymise posts. We ask only that the author provide basic demographic details (race, gender, geographic location, age-range, and stage of career) so that readers may situate the issues presented.

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