As individuals who grew up in other countries or whose family comes from a diverse cultural background, international and multicultural J.D. students face unique challenges in law school. While all students who attend law school must undergo an adjustment process in a highly specialized and demanding academic environment, students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds face additional obstacles. Compared to their native English-speaking peers, multicultural and international students have a relatively weak framework of English fundamentals to buttress their legal research and writing skills. Although significant, differences in linguistic skills do not fully account for the fact that multicultural and international students perform poorer in exams, participate less in class, feel less involved in the school�s community life, and have a less rewarding overall law school experience. There are a host of institutional and cultural factors accompanying the J.D. curriculum that make it harder for students with an international or multicultural background to fully achieve their academic potential. Our organization has the mission of bringing greater awareness of these issues in our law school community.
In the fall of 2001, a group of international J.D. students created the International J.D. Student Organization (IJDSO). The IJDSO started as a series of informal meetings where a small group of students addressed academic and cultural concerns that affected them in their efforts to survive the first year of law school. With the guidance of Professor Penelope Pether, director of the Legal Rhetoric department, the IJDSO eventually set up weekly academic workshops for first- and second-year students to assist them in their legal research and writing skills. In collaboration with the Office of Career Services, the IJDSO organized several lunches and panels with attorneys and practitioners, giving students an opportunity to learn about practicing law in a foreign country and to network with potential legal employers. As part of our advocacy work, the IJDSO held several student/faculty consciousness-raising panels addressing language and cultural issues in our school.
This year, the IJDSO renamed itself the Multicultural and International Student Organization (MISO) to better reflect its mission and broaden its student base. MISO will continue organizing weekly workshops, cultural events and lunches with practitioners. In addition, MISO plans to reach out to professors and increase their awareness of the cognitive processes that challenge non-native English speaking students in the process of acquiring legal literacy in an Anglophone professional culture. One plan is to invite 1L professors of each of the first-year doctrinal courses to attend several weekly academic workshops to hold question and answer sessions with non-native English speaking students. We also hope to introduce the MISO and its mission at a faculty lunch meeting. In addition, we plan to visit 1L faculty during their 1L section meetings to discuss innovative strategies for effectively teaching non-native English speaking students. Throughout the academic year, MISO will continue its outreach and coalition-building activities by making short presentations in other student organizations and at relevant events in our school community.