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Women Also Know Law, a new initiative spearheaded by University of Michigan Law School faculty, aims to create more representation of those who identify as women or gender nonconforming in legal academia.

The project includes two online platforms. The first, a searchable database currently in the works, will include those who have or are seeking an academic appointment in legal education who identify as women or gender nonconforming. The initiative also uses a Twitter account, @womenknowlaw, to highlight the achievements and knowledge of women and gender nonconforming individuals in the legal field.

Assistant Law Professor Leah Litman and Emily Prifogle, visiting assistant law professor, co-founded the initiative. Litman said the public database will provide the opportunity to easily find experts in a given area of law for individuals looking to build curriculum or find speakers for a conference or panel. 

“We’re trying to avoid a situation in which the same group of people tend to get invited or quoted in all of the different pieces and make it easier to erase the excuse of, ‘I didn’t know any women to appear on this panel or this conference, or to consult for this particular project,’” Litman said. 

While the database is still being created, the Twitter account has been in use since Oct. 1. Prifogle said the account is used to showcase the diversity of scholarship women and gender nonconforming people have in the discipline.

“Women don’t promote themselves in the same way that men might promote themselves,” Prifogle said. “We can do some of that promotional work for them, we can amplify their scholarship, we can amplify awards that they have won and bring greater attention to their work.”

The initiative is inspired by Women Also Know Stuff, a similar database and corresponding Twitter account of political science experts who identify as women or gender nonconforming. Prifogle was a member of a group which formed an additional database and Twitter account for historians identifying as women and gender nonconforming individuals called Women Also Know History, which is also based off of Women Also Know Stuff. Though the three initiatives are not in an official partnership, Litman explained, Women Also Know Law has been in contact with the others and has received support from them along the way.

In addition to Litman and Prifogle, Women Also Know Law has a faculty advisory board consisting of 11 University law professors who help manage the Twitter account, generate ideas for website content and publicize the initiative. A group of students from the Women Law Students Association collaborate with the faculty advisory board on the projects.

Second-year Law students Rachel Czwartacky and Emma Macfarlane are co-presidents of the Women Law Students Association and both became involved with Women Also Know Law when Litman reached out to them about the initiative at the beginning of the semester.

Czwartacky and Macfarlane said they are both looking forward to the impact of the initiative. From her involvement in Women Also Know Law, Czwartacky said she has gotten the opportunity to work with influential female law professors that she wouldn’t have met otherwise.

“There are so many panels that go on in the law school all the time that are all put on by different student groups,” Czwartacky said. “Even just between (Mcfarlane and me), we’re always thinking about whose voices are represented on these panels … (Women Also Know Law) is really perfect for both of us. And I think that was something we were looking to do.”

Before coming to law school at the University, Macfarlane taught in Bangkok, Thailand, for two years. Working in a very male-dominated field, Macfarlane said she found importance in having female role models and experts to look up to.

“It’s difficult to make your way when you don’t have people immediately at the forefront of your brain to look up to,” Macfarlane said. “I think that this is an excellent project to highlight people and maybe encourage the default be not a white man, but a woman or a person of color, or a person who is gender nonconforming.”

Litman said those involved in the Women Also Know Law initiative want the project to be used as a positive reinforcement and support tool for those who identify as women and gender nonconforming in law academia. She also hopes those considering entering academia can utilize the initiative to see the great work they can go on to do.

“We want to change the look and feel about what it means to be experts and to be supporting women who are doing amazing things in the law (field), and also encouraging people, reminding them about all of the amazing experts in the field who identify as women or gender nonconforming,” Litman said.

Prifogle said she wants Women Also Know Law to start a productive conversation about including more diversity in the field and bringing women and gender nonconforming voices to the foreground of legal academia.

“I hope for more representation of women in academia, on conference panels and syllabi; I hope the database enables greater representation and greater diversity in those key components of academic life,” Prifogle said. “But I also hope it starts a conversation in legal academia about the importance of diversity, the importance of tackling gender bias. We’re tackling gender bias in a couple of specific ways that I think are modeled on other ways that have proven successful, but they are not the only ways to tackle gender bias. And we alone are not going to solve gender bias in the academy.”

 

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